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Australian punter Tory Taylor creating home at Iowa
Taylor’s friendships from across the football conferences, on the field help him feel comfortable far from home
IOWA CITY — Most stories focus on Iowa sophomore punter Tory Taylor being far from home, but the Australian is creating a second home in Iowa.
Not only does he have an accent that charms any American ear, but his candor is also something unique to football player interviews. He knows to tell you they’re working hard and he believes in the team. The usual.
Then he’ll also tell you that sometimes, his favorite part of a game is seeing his friends — other Australian punters — playing for the other team.
“I think sometimes other people don’t quite understand how important those moments are,” Taylor said. “To see the guys that you’ve trained with back at home and see them out on the field, it’s really special.”
After the Iowa hosted Kent State on Sept. 18, Taylor took a picture with Josh Smith, the punter from across the field. Both had trained with ProKick Australia, an academy founded in 2006 to “facilitate in the transition of aspiring kickers and punters to the grand stage of American football.”
“I remember when Tory came down for his first evaluation,” Smith said. “He was just smoking balls by just the leg power and it was crazy compared to some of the other boys you see.”
Both said they are in group texts with other punters from different conferences, checking in on each other’s games week-to-week. That’s especially important right now during the pandemic.
Australia has been in the midst of an 18-month travel ban. Smith delayed starting at Kent State until this season, while Taylor went through two weeks of quarantine in Sydney, and then back in the U.S. before he could start practice at Iowa for the 2020 season.
Taylor was able to go home this summer, but had to quarantine in Sydney before going to his hometown south of Melbourne. His parents are waiting for their opportunity to see Iowa in person.
“We were really hoping to be there this September, but we’re not allowed out of Australia, basically,” Taylor’s mom, Tanya, said.
But the one redeeming quality about this week’s Friday night game against Maryland is the family doesn’t have to wake up at 5 a.m. on a Sunday to watch it live. Instead, they’ll have a comfortable 10 a.m. Saturday viewing.
Taylor has so far played three Australian punters in Iowa’s opening games: Indiana’s James Evans, Iowa State’s Corey Dunn and Smith. Next on the schedule will be Purdue’s Jack Ansell, Minnesota’s Mark Crawford and Illinois’ Blake Hayes. One of his best friends — Xavier Subotsch — plays for Appalachian State.
Taylor was frank this spring when he spoke about how little he knew about American football. Some of the logistics of when to celebrate or even how the game works only came through game experience.
That’s common for Australian punters at first. Subotsch said that while he had watched college football for a few years from Australia before playing, he had similar struggles as Taylor.
“I’ve never played a snap or walked on a field and my first game was against Georgia in 2017 and that was kind of a rude awakening,” Subotsch said. “In front of 90,000 people, it’s different from playing local AFL (Australian Football League) in front of 75 people. Not knowing when to step out or what to do on the sideline.”
The culture is a little different, too.
“In Australia, you’re probably hanging around the locker room afterwards and have a few drinks and chat for 45 minutes or an hour and here’s it’s like, you grab a water and then you’re on your way,” Subotsch said. “The food’s a bit different, the portion sizes here are massive.”
During FRYfest, Graze Iowa City put out a jar of Vegemite for the players to have with their morning toast at the breakfast buffet. Vegemite is a “thick, dark brown Australian food spread made from leftover brewers' yeast extract with various vegetable and spice additive.”
It was just a little piece of home for Iowa’s punter to share. But Taylor’s parents said it’s not exactly a delicacy of the outback and mainly for kids.
“It’s near-on power oil,” Taylor’s dad, Stuart, said. “We showed (Iowa special teams coach) LeVar (Woods) and his first reaction was like eating 34 lemons. He was polite and said he enjoyed it, but I don’t think he did.”
But Taylor has found one American food he loves: Cinnamon Toast Crunch. When he went home this summer, he found it at an American market in Queensland for $15.
Giving back to the Iowa community
Woods, Iowa’s special teams coach, is why Taylor’s parents said they felt comfortable sending their son across the world, even during a pandemic. Woods made the trip to Australia to convince Taylor to come to Iowa, and welcomes him into his home on holidays since Taylor can’t go home like his other teammates.
He also sees his time here as an opportunity of a lifetime.
Taylor even decided to give back, designating the proceeds from his “Punting is Winning” Raygun T-shirt to benefit “Count the Kicks,” a nonprofit that works to prevent stillbirths. He knew that cause was close to Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz’s heart, since he lost his grandchild, Brian Ferentz’s daughter Savvy Elizabeth Ferentz, in 2017.
“They’ve made a big impact on my life since I’ve got here and a lot of their money gets donated to the Children’s Hospital and I thought it was kind of ironic,” Taylor said. “Count the Kicks, I thought, what an organization to donate some money to.”
But Taylor also loves kids. He has a twin brother, Ben (23) and two younger brothers, Callan (21) and Ashton (11), and his family still lives on a street with 15 kids living around them. Tanya said he’s always out playing sports with them in the neighborhood.
He also keeps in touch with his youngest brother, Ashton, the most.
“Every morning, Tory will call Ashton and sometimes there may be another time throughout the day, it’s really lovely,” Tanya said.
Being a Hawkeye
Taylor lives with senior teammates Henry Marchese, Charlie Jones, Ivory Kelly-Martin and Max Cooper. They have helped him adjust to life in the U.S. Jones, he said, is probably his best friend, and part of that is because the two of them work long hours on the field together as specialists.
“In the summer, I’m punting balls and he’s catching them until we can barely walk anymore,” Taylor said.
Taylor is starting to do more than punt — against Kent State, he got his shot at throwing the ball. While Ferentz called the move “dumb,” allowing a punter in his second-year ever playing American football to do something thousands of high school quarterbacks across the nation only dream of doing at his level, Taylor is honest.
“I thought it was pretty cool, I know it went for 3 yards, but hey, that’s a 100-percent completion, eh?” Taylor said.
Running the football is a different story. His eyes widen as if a little intimidated by the idea. But maybe in due time.
For now, he’s comfortable where he is.
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