San Francisco 49ers pick Australian punter Mitch Wishnowsky in round four of the NFL Draft


Australian punters continue to alter the landscape of American football with the San Francisco 49ers grabbing Perth's Mitch Wishnowsky early in the NFL Draft.

The 49ers were desperate to take the Western Australian-born Wishnowsky and selected him in the fourth round, an incredible feat for a punter.

He was the first punter picked in the seven-round draft.

Wishnowsky wept after 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and other members of the team's front office and coaches called him with news and gave him an "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie" chant.

"Hell yeah," Wishnowsky said.

It is another extraordinary milestone for the 27-year-old who had to quit Aussie Rules after repeated shoulder injuries but his talent booting a Sherrin caught the eye of Australian gridiron officials and the heads of the highly-successful Prokick Australia punting academy, Nathan Chapman and John Smith.

They connected him with the University of Utah.

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He was named an All-American in each of his three years at Utah and won the Ray Guy Award for being US college football's best punter.

Wishnowsky said the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons and the New York Jets all showed interest in him prior to the draft.

The 188cm tall Wishnowsky has a big, booming leg, but also deadly accuracy.

Some Australian punters have had successful stints at US colleges with their ability to punt a ball away from the opposition's returner, but they failed to secure a place on an NFL team.

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Another punter from the Prokick Australia academy, Michael Dickson, hit the headlines in 2018 for his unorthodox use of the drop-kick and fierce tackling style to stand out after he was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks.

Wishnowsky made sure he ticked all the boxes NFL special teams co-ordinators were looking for, including an ability to boot a ball with five seconds of hang time.

"It's a good weapon to have to keep it away from the returner, but I think they also want to see you can spiral," he said.

"I feel keeping it away from the returner in that Aussie kind of kick is seen as a bit of a novelty.

"At this time I feel NFL coaches want to see if you can do the Aussie style, you can also do the spiral."

He left school in Perth early to become a glazier, but quit his job in 2013 to move to Melbourne and try his luck with Chapman and Smith's academy.

Three members of that academy — Tom Hackett, Dickson and Tom Hornsey — had won the Ray Guy Award. Hackett, Wishnowsky's predecessor at Utah, had won it twice.

Wishnowsky became eligible to play in NCAA college football by punting for and completing an associate degree at Santa Barbara Community College in California.

He earned a scholarship to the University of Utah and became the fourth Aussie winner of the Ray Guy Award in 2016. He was also one of three finalists for the award in 2017 and 2018.

Wishnowsky completed two out of two fake punts — running the ball instead of kicking — in his college career, gaining 19 and 28 yards on each play.

Early this year he played in the Senior Bowl — an exhibition game like the NFL's Pro Bowl, designed to showcase prospects for the NFL Draft — for the North team.