A busy man: WKU’s punter from down under juggles family and football

Punter+John+Haggerty+III+lines+up+a+kick+during+a+WKU+practice.

Credit: Steve Roberts / WKU Athletics

Punter John Haggerty III lines up a kick during a WKU practice.

Wyatt Sparkman, Football reporter

WKU Football found its punter four seasons ago in Sydney, Australia.

The Hilltoppers came across the then-24-year-old John Haggerty III. The 6-foot-5-inch Aussie was ranked the 17th best punter in the 2019 class, and he made an instant impact on the Hill. He suited up for his first NCAA game in 2019 and averaged a mammoth 55 yards-per-punt against Central Arkansas.

“I’ve never actually played the game before, so how are [things] gonna go in the first game,” Haggerty said. “I remember playing the first game, averaged 55 yards. I remember thinking,‘this is what I want to do forever’.”

The Sydney native set a program record of 45.9 yards per punt that year, good for 13th-best in Division I that season. He was top 10 in the nation in net yard average (42.1), punting 17 50+ yard kicks. Before Haggerty came along, WKU punters managed just 18 of those kicks across the previous three seasons. 

DOWN UNDER

Before Haggerty became the program’s best punter, he started out playing any and every sport he could get his hands on. He played rugby, Australian football and soccer growing up. He looked up to the Black Mamba in Los Angeles.

“I was born in ‘95, so my biggest inspiration was Kobe [Bryant],” Haggerty said. “Which was weird because everyone was sort of a Michael Jordan fan but I grew up watching Kobe.”

Haggerty said he had always been in love with American football and knew he could punt. He knows a couple of Aussie punters that play in the NFL, including one of the NFL’s best, Michael Dickson. 

“I actually played football with him back home,” Haggerty said. “We had similar kicks, I thought, ‘He’s making a lot of money, why can’t I make a lot of money?’” 

Haggerty began taking the steps necessary to make his NFL dream come true.

“I looked into it, and I was living in Sydney at the time and the academy that everyone goes through is in Melbourne,” Haggerty said. “That’s where my wife is from… I thought, ‘hey, let’s go’. [let’s] move to Melbourne, and I’ll try.”

Haggerty’s wife has always supported him through his journey of wanting to be an NFL punter. He said the first time she saw him punt, she was overwhelmed.

“She started crying. She [said], ‘that was incredible, you need to do this’,” Haggerty said.

COMING TO AMERICA

Haggerty’s dream of playing professionally took a huge leap forward when WKU found out about him through Pro Kick Australia. The Australian punter would then join the Hilltoppers in December of 2018. 

Luckily for the Aussie, coming to the United States didn’t bring too many culture shocks, except for driving on the opposite side of the road and an onslaught of deep-fried junk food.

“That threw us off for a while, sometimes it still throws me off,” Haggerty said. “There’s a lot of bad food here. I got here and put on weight so fast, I’m not used to that. Everything was deep fried, covered in butter and it was just not what I was used to.” 

ROUGH GOING

Haggerty injured his knee the following offseason during a workout. He had surgery to repair his knee in February 2020, right before the world shut down for a while.

“I had surgery in February, and then basically COVID hit three weeks later,” Haggerty said. “Everything was shut down so I was doing rehab back in my apartment.” He shared that the recovery process, coupled with the pandemic, led to one of the most challenging and stressful times of his life.

Coming back from injury, Haggerty hit a rough stretch early on in the 2020 season. He punted well early in the season against Louisville and Liberty, but his yards-per-punt average began to dip.

“I started the season well, we played Louisville and I played really well,” He said. “And then I had a bad three or four games… I remember going to speak to the coaches, they sort of helped calm my nerves a little bit, and then it sort of freed me up to just [punt like] I normally did.”

Even though the move to America has furthered his dream, Haggerty hasn’t been able to see his family in-person for three years. He shared in the spring he planned to see them before the COVID-19 pandemic began, but now plans to see them around Christmas or after his pro day, which will take place in early 2022. 

“We send photos, we FaceTime. The hardest part is during the season, because we travel on a Friday, that’s our Saturday back home,” Haggerty said. “That’s really the only day I can really speak to my family. I get to the hotel, once we’ve done team dinner and all that I’ll try and take an hour off to speak to my sisters and my mom, otherwise they’re worried about us over here so it puts them at ease knowing that we’re okay.”

MARRIED WITH CHILDREN

Despite this distance, Haggerty has been able to begin his own family in Bowling Green with his wife Spenser and their newborn son, Lincoln John Haggerty, who was born in July. 

“It’s been easy man, he’s a good boy. He doesn’t cry, doesn’t whine,” Haggerty shared on fatherhood. “He’s easy, sleeps through the night, so far so good. Been a month so far, so he’s doing well.”

SCHOOL SPIRIT

Not just a stud on the field, Haggerty also shines in the classroom. He earned Male Graduate Scholar Athlete of the Year honors with a 4.0 GPA in his Organizational Leadership program and is now working towards a master’s in Recreation and Sport Administration. 

Somehow, Haggerty is able to balance football, family and school all at once.

“It’s not easy. I finished my Org. Lead, now I’m in an MBA, and that’s even harder,” Haggerty said. “We’ve just started class, baby is only a month old, I’ll start figuring things out as we go from here. I think it’s gonna be hard but it also helps take my mind off football. Otherwise, football is everything.”

Football reporter Wyatt Sparkman can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @wyattsparkman3.