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55 Yard Line

Who needs David Beckham when Aussie punter Josh Bartel can bend the ball like him?

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

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Josh Bartel, seen punting at Ivor Wynne last year, has brought Aussie flair to the CFL.

NFL teams may or may not be trying to recruit soccer star David Beckham as a kicker, but the Hamilton Tiger-Cats already have a foreign star from another sport who can bend a football like Beckham can bend the other type of football. That would be Australian punter Josh Bartel, an Aussie rules vet who's in his second CFL season (after being one of two Australian players to join the league last year: the other one, Calgary's Scott Crough, got hurt and went home). Bartel is fitting in well in Hamilton, and was named a East Division all-star last season after averaging 42.8 yards per punt during his rookie campaign, but what's perhaps most impressive about his punting is the directional control he brings in from his Aussie rules experience. He showed that off to Gregory Strong of the Canadian Press in a video posted Friday:

The Aussie rules-style banana kicks Bartel's employing here are done using a similar technique to soccer, where you contact the ball on one side or the other rather than from directly behind, making it spin to the opposite side. They don't necessarily have huge CFL applications, as it's rare that you want the ball to go across the field rather than down it, but variants of this kick (more downfield, but maintaining a little spin) can be useful for directional punts and fooling returners. This can also come in handy on onside kicks, and it might even work well for extra points or sharply-angled field goals (although kicker Luca Congi will be handling most of those for Hamilton). Really, though, it mostly shows off Bartel's impressive directional control. He's added other Aussie rules elements to his game, too, including an end-over-end drop kick (where the ball bounces before he kicks it) that can pin returners deep:

The six-foot-three, 200-pounder has the power to generate distance and hang time but he's also quite accurate. When punting from midfield, he'll often use an end-over-end style Australian rules drop kick to pin the opposing team deep in its own end.

"We've grown up since we were kids kicking that," Bartel said. "It's almost like walking for the Australian rules boys. It's good fun, it's easy to control, the risk for me is minimal. I'd like to use it a lot more."

How did the CFL wind up with an Australian player? Well, the kicking element in the Aussie rules game is quite similar to CFL punting, and players like Bartel obviously have impressive directional control as well as pure power. Beyond that, though, there's another thing that makes them valuable to CFL teams: because Australian players received their football training outside the U.S., they count as non-imports (exactly like Canadians). That's encouraged CFL teams to think a little more globally, and in Bartel's case, it seems to have worked out. Going from Australian football to Canadian football is still an adjustment, though, as he told Strong:

"I remember my first week in training camp, the first training camp I'd ever been to. Probably didn't speak a word for the first week, I don't think," he said. "I was that nervous. I wouldn't say overwhelmed but just nervous pretty much. It was something different. My first exhibition game at Ivor Wynne (Stadium), my first four kicks I can't even remember them.

"I just caught it and tried to kick it as fast as I could before I got hit. I was very nervous that game. I'm just glad I got through it."

Bartel has survived and thrived, and he's shown that you don't necessarily need a Beckham when lower-profile foreign players from other sports can be just as impressive. That's good, as the odds of Beckham playing in the NFL have been described as "about as likely as Victoria Beckham winning a Grammy." Another advantage of using a player like Bartel instead of Beckham is that you don't have to worry about stampeding fans. Instead, everyone can just recite the greatest sketch ever written about Australia:

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