Iowa punter Tory Taylor kicks the ball during a football game between No. 19 Iowa and Kent State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021.

Australian ‘Punter From Down Under’ Tory Taylor continues to excel with Hawkeye football

The 24-year-old punter came to Iowa from across the world. Now, he’s emerged as one of the best punters in the nation.

November 4, 2021

The south end zone erupts in cheers as Hawkeye punter Tory Taylor and his special teams unit takes the field on fourth down at Kinnick Stadium during a mid-October game against Purdue.

The Hawkeye student section chants, “MVP, MVP” as the Australian punter takes the snap and flips the field for Iowa’s defense.

Hawkeye fans, clad with “Punting is Winning” shirts and Australian flags, cheer while Iowa is giving up possession — an unusual sight before Taylor joined the program.

This season, Hawkeye fans are ecstatic to see the reigning Big Ten Punter of the Year, who averages 46.1 yards per punt. The 24-year-old is now earning national recognition on the Ray Guy Award watch list this season — a trophy awarded to the nation’s top punter.

In Taylor’s first season with fans in the stands, the cheers aren’t something special teams coordinator LeVar Woods is accustomed to hearing in that situation.

“It’s very, very strange to go in the game — the last game we played [at Kinnick Stadium], the first time the punting unit comes out, the fans start going crazy,” Woods said. “I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ and my wife told me after the game, ‘You’ve never noticed that before?’ And, you know, there’s Australian flags in the crowd and that kind of stuff, so that’s definitely cool.”

Taylor had not stepped foot on an American football field, much less an American stadium, before he arrived at the University of Iowa for the 2020 season.

The Punter From Down Under played his first season without full stadiums because of COVID-19 protocols. Now, he is still adjusting to his Hawkeye fanbase.

“I love going out there because it’s great fun, and that’s my job,” Taylor said. “But yeah, especially in the Penn State game to hear them chanting, that was pretty special. But I didn’t really take too much notice of it until towards the end of the game… as long as we’re winning, and I’m having fun and making everyone close to me proud, that’s all I really worry about.”

The 6-foot-4 Aussie first developed his punting skills while playing Australian football. Then, he honed his abilities with ProKick Australia — a company to help guide Australian athletes to college and NFL football.

Taylor wasn’t sure if he wanted to attend Iowa. But with encouragement from his family, Taylor decided to take a chance on living and playing in the U.S. and has emerged as one of the nation’s top punters.

Hometown hero

Taylor and his three brothers — his 24-year-old twin, Ben, 21-year-old Callan, and 11-year-old Ashton — grew up around sports, playing Australian football, cricket, and basketball. But Tory was the only one to stick with sports.

“He’s always been sports mad,” Stuart Taylor, Tory’s father, said when he spoke to The Daily Iowan from Melbourne, Australia. “EPL, NFL … always sports mad. He, at particular times of his teenage life, could tell you many, if not all the teams of the English Premier League, Spanish, European, American.”

Stuart said he and his wife, Tanya, tried to keep Tory and Ben as separate of people as possible. They wanted Tory and Ben to feel like individuals, not twins, so the pair had separate friends and separate interests growing up.

Now, while Tory plays at Iowa, Ben is studying aviation back in Australia. Tory frequently has to work around the 16-hour time difference but finds time in between practice and classes to make FaceTime calls to his family and friends.

“He speaks with his younger brother every day,” Stuart said. “We talk with Tory probably every couple of days, obviously, with the time difference, and also his training regimes. It happens, it just comes with all the hours.”

As Tory works his way through school and football at Iowa, his family’s small town outside of Melbourne has rallied behind him, with Iowa’s Tigerhawk logo becoming easily recognizable.

RELATED: Iowa football director of recruiting Tyler Barnes talks class of 2022

“If I go down to the cafe to grab a coffee or two, and you find by chance I’m wearing [Hawkeye gear,] everyone knows where he is, and who he is,” Stuart said. “And it’s, ‘How’s he going,’ and, ‘How’re the Hawks going.’ So it’s sort of not so much him, but certainly the Hawks have got more of a following than they may ever have.”

From Australia to Iowa City

Tory graduated from Haileybury College in Melbourne, Australia, in 2015.

But at the time, the recent high school graduate wasn’t sure of his path forward. So, he worked a litany of odd jobs.

“I was working at a golf club when I finished school, and I thought about going to university,” Tory said. “And then I got into the construction industry and thought, ‘Ah, I’ll go to university and try and get a construction management degree.’”

But Tory’s true passion didn’t lie with construction. He joined ProKick Australia, an organization to help guide Australian kickers to perform at the college and NFL level, in 2019.

Tory excelled with ProKick Australia. His previous experience with Australian football — a sport that emphasizes punting for all players — gave him a leg up when he joined the program.

Iowa’s football program previously worked with ProKick, recruiting former punter and fellow Australian Michael Sleep-Dalton. Tory quickly garnered attention from the Hawkeyes after starting with ProKick Australia. Woods traveled down to Australia to recruit Tory within six months of him joining the program.

Stuart Taylor described Woods as a “family man” in his visit to Australia in January 2020. The Taylor family’s comfort with Woods and, in turn, the rest of the coaching staff, won them over.

“We were sold on the fact that [Woods] was in the best interest of Tory and the Hawks, is what it seemed,” Stuart said. “And I think that’s still truly the case now. We’re more than comfortable that he’s in good hands.”

So, Tory signed with the Hawkeyes in February 2020, and found a new home halfway across the world.

A culture shock

Tory came to Iowa with prior experience in Australian — not American — football. Although the sports have the same name, they feature a completely different set of rules.

Australian football features 18 players on an oval-shaped pitch with no set offense or defense. The ball is passed around the pitch by a combination of running, handballing, and kicking, and the primary way to score is punting a ball through goal posts.

Tory said he learned the basics of American football with ProKick Australia. But as he started practice with the Hawkeyes, he was lost to the complexity of American rules.

“American football is a really complicated game in of itself,” Tory said. “And I’m never going to know all the rules, like, I’m learning every day of practice. Especially on game days, when the referee calls certain calls that I’ve got no idea what they even mean. But I’m just trying to simplify it as much as I can… It’s a bit different, because there’s a lot of big guys running at me, trying to get me and such, but I just try and go back to the basics.”

Taylor sometimes had to learn American football rules the hard way — in Iowa’s game against Wisconsin last December, the ball slipped out of Tory’s hands as he prepared to punt.

Instead of picking the ball up, the punter kicked the ball off the Kinnick Stadium turf, drawing a 15-yard illegal procedure penalty.

But the complicated rules, and his occasional miscues, don’t overwhelm the punter.

“The best part, he has no idea what he’s doing half the time, in terms of football,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He does as a player. The rest of the stuff, it’s an adventure ride for him. He’s enjoying life. He has such a good approach. Just really underwhelmed by all of it, what he’s doing. He just goes out and plays.

“Tory is one of the neatest people to come through the program. He’s just so different because he is  — naive is not the right word, but it’s such a fresh approach to everything because he is brand new to everything about college football. So that’s been pretty fun to watch.”

Kicking for charity

Tory wasn’t interested when student-athletes started to profit off of name, image, and likeness in July. He cannot make any profit off of NIL ventures, because of his international student status.

“When I first heard about the NIL, I had no idea that international students couldn’t benefit from it,” Tory said. “But it was just one of those things that, it didn’t really interest me, just because I felt like it’s an added distraction. And the way I see it is if you’re good enough, you’re making money eventually. So, it was just one of those things that I didn’t really worry or focus any energy towards at all just because I didn’t really care about it.”

International student-athletes are technically covered under the NCAA’s interim NIL policy, which was adopted July 1. But federal law states that foreign student-athletes in the U.S. on a student visa can only be compensated for work on-campus or an educationally affiliated off-campus location, prohibiting them from accepting any NIL offers.

But after the season started, Tory found out he could still release his own merchandise. He just had to donate the profits.

So, after partnering with Raygun — a t-shirt company and clothing store — he released a shirt that said, “Punting is Winning” with an outline of Australia on the front.

“It was just one of those things that I thought, ‘Well, any way to donate some money,’” Tory said. “Because, I’d rather them have it than me. And then it’s kind of just taken off a lot more than I thought. I thought, ‘Well, if I can make a couple hundred bucks here or there, and send that off to charity, that’s great.’ But it’s kind of been going pretty crazy, which is awesome.”

Tory decided to donate all of the proceeds to Count the Kicks — an organization that teaches pregnant women how to monitor fetal movement. Count the Kicks was founded by five Iowa mothers, and the company partners with 14 state health agencies to provide educational materials.

Tory first considered donating to the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, but he knew that the children’s hospital received a lot of donations.

“This was more of a smaller organization,” Tory said. “And I just really kind of wanted to make a big impact on them, and then I felt like, I said, ‘If I can donate a little bit of money then it’s  such a great cause.’ And just the name as well, Count the Kicks, it’s kind of ironic.”

He is making the donations in honor of Ferentz and his son, Brian, Iowa’s offensive coordinator.

Brian Ferentz and his wife, Nikki, lost their daughter, Savvy, in utero at 21 weeks in 2017.

“For Tory to do that, that’s really a nice gesture on his part,” Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s a shame he doesn’t get to benefit from the NIL stuff, but that’s the way he’s wired. He’s really an exceptional person.”

NFL aspirations

Tory has one eye to the idea of being an NFL prospect.

“I feel like it’d be silly to not give that opportunity a go,” Tory said. “I mean, that’s still quite a bit of time away before I start worrying about that. And I just feel like it’s the small little stuff, there are other ways to bigger and better things, but, I mean, if the NFL happens that’s great… But it’s not the end of the world, and I can just walk away knowing that I gave everything, and it’s been a great opportunity and it’s just given me so much more than I thought it would have gotten.”

But the sophomore said he first wants to complete his education at Iowa. Although Tory said hasn’t nailed down a major yet, he is thinking about a degree in business entrepreneurship.

Tory also has one major goal before the end of his career as a Hawkeye — get his family and friends from Australia to Kinnick Stadium.

The Taylor family has not made the trip to Iowa because of strict COVID-19 protocols in Australia. But as restrictions loosen, the family is hoping to make a trip out next season.

“That’s probably the one thing that I’m most excited about, out of anything,” Tory said. “That’s probably my biggest dream, to get my friends and family in the stands for one game. So, I feel like when that happens, that’s probably one thing I can really tick off my list and yeah, it will make me really happy, just because they’re all the people that I play for.”

For now, the Taylor family has to settle for watching on TV. They will always watch the game live, even with the 16-hour time difference. When the Hawkeyes had an 11 a.m. kickoff on Oct. 30 in Madison, Tory’s family and friends switched on the TV at 3 a.m. on Oct. 31 in Australia.

This week, the Australians will have a more amenable kickoff time. The Hawkeyes will kick off at 6 p.m. against Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois, and Tory’s family will tune in at 10 a.m.

But his family and friends don’t mind, as long as they get to see their punter play in the Black and Gold.

“If he’s playing on the moon at 12 o’clock at night and before we work, we want to watch the Hawks and we’ve got to get up and do it,” Stuart said. “Pure and simple and that, I suppose.”

The Daily Iowan • Copyright 2024 • FLEX WordPress Theme by SNOLog in