Florida football: Punter Jeremy Crawshaw turning rugby dreams into promising football career

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Jeremy Crawshaw (26) is in his first season punting for Florida.

Jeremy Crawshaw didn’t grow up with NFL aspirations. 

Instead, Florida’s starting punter had dreams of playing professional rugby for a team located just several miles from his hometown of Emu Plains, New South Wales, Australia. 

“Rugby league, we call it back home. Penrith Panthers is the local professional team,” Crawshaw recalled, “and I was big on trying to make the team when I was younger.”

It didn’t work out, and by high school Crawshaw was playing “Aussie Rules” football, Australia’s version of football featuring two teams of 18 players competing on a modified cricket ground, for the Emu Plains/Glenmore Park Lions Junior AFL Club. 

“I guess it just didn't happen,” Crawshaw said of his rugby dreams. “I just went looking for other things."

If he hadn’t transitioned to competing in the Australian Football League in 2015, Crawshaw’s strong and accurate kick, the one that several years later would have him receiving scholarship offers from collegiate football programs on the other side of the world, might have gone unnoticed.

Fortunately for him and for the Gators, Crawshaw’s kicking potential was apparent, and he soon honed in on the art of sailing a ball through the air. But potential just means you haven’t done anything yet — Crawshaw needed coaching to turn promise into something worthwhile.

So Crawshaw sought out a program in Melbourne, a city more than 500 miles away from his hometown, where he could further his ability: Prokick Australia, founded in 2007 by a former NFL punter with the intention of helping Australians become collegiate and, for the rare few, professional athletes. 

The program is exclusive and invite-only, meaning Crawshaw couldn’t just walk in off the street. He had to be chosen. 

“I'd probably say (it’s) about 30 guys,” Crawshaw said. “To get into it you have to go through, like, an assessment day, where our coaches, Nathan Chapman and Johnny Smith, will either tell you that, you know, you have a leg that we reckon we can send you to a school. (Or) they'd say maybe you don't, you know, go work out, work on the kicking, come back in six months, you know, see if you're good then.”

From there, things moved at a rapid pace.

In 2019, less than a year before he would sign with the Gators, Crawshaw was one of the select few in the Prokick Australia program. He moved to Melbourne in January of that year and began training with Chapman, a former Green Bay Packers punter, and Smith, his new coaches.

“Once you've been accepted, I guess it kind of takes you through the ropes. They teach you, they put you under pressure,” Crawshaw said. “They show you looks, they show you how to punt, most importantly, so that when we get over here, everything kind of just clicks.

The coaches at the Prokick Australia facility would film Crawshaw kicking and send the tapes to schools in America. It didn’t take long for Florida to take notice. 

“I’m watching these guys, and they’re great punters. They go to this kicking school there,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “Let’s call down there and let’s evaluate and find the guys.”

Soon a FaceTime call was arranged between Crawshaw and the UF coaching staff, which meant he had to stay up late due to the 15-hour time difference. 

“Florida had reached out because, you know, Tommy (Townsend) was leaving. They said, 'They needed a fella with a big leg,' and I guess I fit that,” Crawshaw said. “It was pretty much I was told, like, 'Hey, Florida wants to offer, you're going to be on a phone call in about three days.' So, and late one night I got on the phone with the coaches and then I was handed off to Mullen, and, yeah, that was it, I was offered there.”

As Crawshaw tells it, he committed in May of 2019, but the public didn’t learn of UF’s newfound punter until he took an official visit in September for Florida’s 34-3 victory over Tennessee, a trip that also marked Crawshaw’s first time in the country. 

The Gators made Crawshaw, who not too long ago envisioned himself in a black-and-teal Penrith Panthers jersey, feel like royalty. 

“We came over here, it was three days — I think half of it was trying to keep our eyes open because of the jet lag,” he recalled. “It was really short, but it was good. It’s something I wish people back home could experience, because we don’t have anything like it — being shown around like a VIP. I’d like to do it again sometime.”

Though the move from Emu Plains to Gainesville wasn’t an easy one — it still required a leap of faith in a sense. Fortunately for Crawshaw, he wasn’t the first Australian to make it to the U.S in search of a professional football career. 

He was acquainted with Josh Growden and Jamie Keehn, a pair of former Prokick Australia punters who both signed with LSU, and could look toward 29-year-old Cameron Johnston, the Houston Texans’ current punter, to see a football career as an attainable goal rather than just a dream. 

“Prokick, we’re kind of a tight group, I guess you could say. When we play each other, we always have a chat, grab a photo. It’s always a good time when you play somebody you know,” he said. “When I was starting to get interested in this, I guess somebody I looked up to was Cameron Johnston. I really liked the way he played the game and handled some of the situations that he was in. So I definitely look up toward him.”

With the way he’s started his UF career, Crawshaw may soon be one of the punters that future Prokick participants idolize. 

A week after tying his career-high with a 58-yard punt, Crawshaw set a new career-high with a 69-yard boot in the Gators’ 42-0 win over the Commodores, though it wasn’t his most impressive play of the day. That honor belonged to the 28-yard run Crawshaw rattled off on UF’s first drive of the third quarter. 

Mullen didn’t recruit Crawshaw for his speed, but he had certainly seen in practice what the former rugby winger could do with the ball in his hands. It looks like a home-run addition in retrospect, but Mullen makes sure to note that recruiting someone on the other side of the world doesn’t come without its limitations. 

“We actually practice that stuff before we do it in a game, so I’ve seen him run. I see him in the offseason through offseason training and conditioning, so he’s a phenomenal athlete. I know that. I didn’t know that when we recruited him as much, but once he’s been here for a while, so I know his athleticism,” Mullen said. “You’re not getting to see them live and in person. You’re recruiting them off tape, and you’re trying to — is the tape going at the right speed? How high was the kick? What’s the hangtime? What’s the distance? Is there anything I’m not seeing, like the tape’s hiding, talent-wise?

"Jeremy and his family came out here for the official visit, so you got to spend time, but he was already committed to us pretty much when he did that. Is he going to be able to fit in? The NCAA requirements and student visa deals, you know. He can’t even get an Outback Steakhouse name, image and likeness deal because he’s on a student visa, unfortunately. So there’s all kinds of challenges that go into it.”

When Crawshaw takes the field Saturday in Baton Rouge, he’ll hardly be the first Australian to boom it away in Death Valley, and odds are he won’t be the last. 

On the path to becoming an aspirational figure for Australian kickers, Crawshaw is grateful the Gators took a chance on him, though he knows he’s only getting started — he has another chance Saturday to further a career that initially wasn’t on his radar. 

"I love it. The SEC I reckon is the best football conference, you know, the biggest and the baddest are here. The biggest crowds, the most diehard fans and I love it so you know Florida fits right in when I play at home with 90,000 in The Swamp, it's goosebumps, every time I run out, I love it so I reckon there's nothing like it. You know, I love the fans. I love going out there to play, love, love being part of UF,” he said. “I was very lucky to have the Gators find me and offer me. I’m very lucky to be here.”