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From Down Under to the Top of the Hill

Western’s Australian sensation looks set to make his sophomore debut this Saturday
Dominic Di Palermo
Tom Ellard looks towards the ball he just punted during WKU’s practice at Feix Field in Bowling Green, Ky. on Tuesday, August 29, 2023.

The 2023 season will mark the fifth consecutive year in a row that Western Kentucky University will field an Australian Punter. Tom Ellard, WKU’s Punter for the 2023 season, kicked off this year as the front runner for Conference USA’s Preseason ‘Punters Rankings’.

Ellard joins former WKU Punter, John Haggerty III, as alumni of ProKick, an Australian organization that specializes in conditioning athletes to punt for American colleges.

As of now, 55% of Conference USA’s teams will be starting an Aussie Punter for the 2023 season, while a conference like the SEC will feature 78%.

In an exclusive interview with The College Heights Herald, Ellard spoke on a variety of topics, including his performance last year, the ‘Punter Mentality’ that he brings to the squad, and the comparison of ProKick to Western Kentucky.

The art of punting is something that has become a bit more nationally recognized, thanks partially in part to Pat McAfee, former Punter for the Indianapolis Colts, and current host of ‘The Pat McAfee Show’. During his time on air, McAfee has claimed the phrase, ‘Punter Mentality’. 

Tom Ellard looks towards the ball he just punted during WKU’s practice at Feix Field in Bowling Green, Ky. on Tuesday, August 29, 2023. (Dominic Di Palermo)

Punter Mentality

When asked what his own ‘Punter Mentality’ included, Ellard reverted back to the fundamentals,

“The way I see ‘kicker mentality’ is to just sort of hit the ball as far as I can, as high as I can, outside the hash, and give the team the best position to get the ball back on the defense.” Ellard said. “So, I guess Punter Mentality, for me, is just to make sure that I do my job, try to lock the other team as far back as I can, and just get that good field position too.”

Punting in a Dome

McAfee’s vocalization on Punting has created more than just a mindset for Special Teamsmen. The former Pro Bowl Punter also believes that every stadium in football should be a dome, or at least have a retractable roof.

WKU concluded the 2022 season with a win over the Southern Alabama Jaguars in the New Orleans Bowl, played in the Caesars Superdome. This game was Ellard’s first experience kicking collegiately in a dome.

After a great punting display in that game, Ellard said that the dome was absolutely noteworthy for his performance.

“You can definitely notice it, since there’s no weather, there’s no wind, it’s just pretty humid inside, so it makes the ball float a little bit better. Most of the factors inside of a game are mainly the wind. So, you can either get wind in front of you, which is what WKU produces 99% of the time, or you can get the wind behind you.” Ellard said.

“In a dome though, there’s just nothing, it’s just pure air, pure oxygen, and it just floats, the ball just feels so much better to hit. I did alright in the New Orleans Bowl, I guess if we had the opportunity, I would choose to play in a dome every weekend.”

Bowling Green Elevation

Ellard is used to unusual punting situations though. The elevation difference of Bowling Green to Tom’s hometown in Melbourne is about 445 feet. 

Given that four of the five longest field goals in NFL history have either come inside of a dome, or at Mile High Stadium, in Denver, Colorado, we can only assume that altitude plays a critical role in the Aussie’s preparation.

“I actually went back at the start of this year actually, and yeah, there’s a big difference, you can sort of notice how the ball flies, how the ball turns over, gets some distance on the ball as well.” Ellard explained. “One of my mates actually just went to Colorado, and I’m like man… you’re going to struggle there. He reckons that he hits the ball so much better because of the oxygen levels.”

Back to the Outback

As much as our Outback native is adjusting to the oxygen in Kentucky, he is adjusting just as much to the homesickness. The National Institute of Health released a study in 2017 stating that up to 70% of college students experience homesickness each year. 

When asked how he navigated that, Ellard attributed his resiliency to his maturity, and his ‘mates’ who have made Bowling Green feel like home.

“My age plays a big factor. I’m 29 this year, so I guess I’m sort of in that mature bracket, well I hope so at least. Just a lot of the boys at the facility are definitely helping, I mean like, I got a lot of good mates.”

“The new long snapper, Rex, he’s one of my good friends. Josh Sterns, he’s one of my better friends. Big Mike Ondelacy, he’s my other boy that helps me out quite a fair bit, and the list goes on Bronson (Barron), Blue (Smith), Willie Taggart Jr, all those boys, they just, they’re all around me.”

“I don’t even really miss home because it’s like I have my own little family over here with all the boys who look after me, so I really couldn’t be more grateful for that.”

The love for Ellard on the team does not just stop at the guys who wear the jerseys. Tom accredited certain members of the coaching staff, Head Coach Tyson Helton and Special Teams Coordinator Andy LaRussa, with playing a vital role in allowing him to feel like he was at home.

“I mean like, the coaching staff, the Helton Family, Mrs. Helton and the boys that he’s got are amazing for me too. LaRussa and LaRussa’s family as well are always welcoming me, I really just have a nice little base of family around here.”

Tom Ellard practices his punts during WKU’s practice at Feix Field in Bowling Green, Ky. on Tuesday, August 29, 2023. (Dominic Di Palermo)

ProKick Alumni

Ellard, who sports the number 47, hopes to join the five current punters in the NFL who are alumni of ProKick. 

ProKick’s official website details exactly what it means to be an athlete in their organization, quoting, “We will break down the mechanics and technique required and assist you in developing your body to handle the physical demands of college football.”

When Ellard spoke about his time in the program, and the mental and physical demands that the program expected out of him, he spoke incredibly highly about the organization, as well as the men in the background.

“ProKick are an amazing company, I can’t speak more highly of them as a group. Johnny Smith, Nathan Chapman, and Timmy Gleeson run that joint, and they do a very good job. In college sports, I think 99% of colleges have an Australian, and they’re all doing amazing.”

However, Ellard found himself in an interesting situation. When he received the offer from Nathan Chapman, a co-founder of the group, he had still never even touched an American football, let alone put on football pads.

“In all honesty I had never even touched one (an American football), I followed the Dallas Cowboys, so I followed football pretty closely, but I had never really touched one. I played Australian Rules Football for most of my life, even played semi-pro for 8 years, but eventually I floated away from doing that, and I wanted to make a job out of something.”

“So, it actually is a pretty big change, I guess. The whole pads and stuff, that was a big change for us, because I had never worn pads in my life, we just run into each other like we do. I actually looked forward to someone running into me, sounds weird right? But if someone is going to run into me, I don’t mind it, it doesn’t faze me at all. I think it’s a 15-yard penalty for roughing the kicker, so if anyone wants to run into me, run into me, I’ll take the yardage.” 

On the way out of the interview, Tom was swarmed by his fellow teammates, all with big smiles on their faces asking if he had ‘put any shrimp on the barbie’ lately. Ellard took the time to assure his mates that they all got a shoutout, which resulted in a collective cheer.

Ellard and the rest of the Hilltoppers kick off their season this Saturday at 3:30 against South Florida.

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