JACK Bouwmeester’s opportunity of a lifetime was born out of uncertainty.
“I was a bit confused earlier this year about whether I wanted to do a trade or go to university,” Bouwmeester said on Thursday.
“And I’d just had another back niggle with cricket and didn’t know whether I wanted to commit to playing in Melbourne with Carlton anymore.”
Looking for a new direction, Bouwmeester decided to follow up on an e-mail he had sent to ProKick Australia’s Nathan Chapman a month earlier.
What has since transpired for the 19-year-old has been a life-changing whirlwind as Bouwmeester now prepares to pack his bags and head to America as a gridiron punter on a four-year scholarship with the Michigan State University Spartans.
“It still hasn’t really sunk in yet, so it is hard to describe how it feels,” Bouwmeester said.
“It probably won’t sink in until I’m kicking behind a real line, but it’s all happened really quickly.
“It’s really exciting thinking about it at the moment, but also probably going to be a bit daunting when I get on the plane to head over.”
Bouwmeester’s switch to gridiron follows a sporting path that was spent mainly on the football and cricket fields of Bendigo.
Not surprisingly given his transition to punting, Bouwmeester always considered his booming kick with his right foot the strength of his football career that began in the juniors with Kennington-Sandhurst.
“Probably the only thing I was actually alright in with footy was being able to kick the football,” Bouwmeester said.
“I always seemed to be a reasonably decent kick of the footy.”
While there was only a matter of months between Bouwmeester’s initial contact with Chapman to receiving a phone call while playing golf that he had been offered the scholarship from Michigan State, in between was an intense training regime honing his skills and technique with ProKick Australia and plenty of travel up and down the Calder between Bendigo and Melbourne.
“It was three days a week training… Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Sunday was at 6.30am, so they certainly sort you out with that,” Bouwmeester said.
“And there was also two compulsory gym sessions a week, and then there’s some extras on top of that as well, so you’ve got to be fully committed to it; they make sure you’re not wasting your time or theirs.”
Bouwmeester – who earlier this week produced a personal best “hang time” kick of 5.3 seconds – has already had one fleeting visit to Michigan State University, which was founded in 1855 and is located in East Lansing, about 90 minutes from Detroit.
He says he was blown away by the magnitude of the football team’s facilities.
“It was absolutely amazing. It’s kind of like an AFL facility on steroids,” Bouwmeester said.
“The gym alone was huge, there’s two outdoor fields, one was an artificial surface, the other grass, there’s three pools, a massive recovery centre, they have two doctors that work full-time just for the football team… Youtube videos don’t do it justice, you need to see it to believe how big it is.”
Bouwmeester, who flies out to the States at the end of the month to embark on his freshman season, will be among three punters jostling for the starting spot on the Michigan State team when its 2019 season begins in late August.
Michigan State plays in the Big 10 East Conference of the NCAA and is coached by Mike Dantonio.
The Spartans, whose home venue holds 75,000, finished second with a 10-2 overall record behind Ohio State this year, with Chapman – who is originally from Bendigo – providing an insight into what Bouwmeester can expect.
"It's not going to be easy. He'll be playing in front of between 70,000 to 100,000 people every week for the next four years,” Chapman told the Bendigo Advertiser in October.
"He's not playing footy in the country anymore. He needs to come at that with a professional attitude towards his school work and his training.
“Jack came to us with some raw talent and then we pieced together everything that he had and combined it with training to ensure he was kicking higher rather than longer. We taught him the nuances of American football and built him so that he can perform.”
As a punter, Bouwmeester will be part of Michigan State’s special teams unit where it will be his role to punt the ball to the opposing team with distance and height (hang time) crucial elements.
“Any person who plays College wants to end up in the NFL, but I’m not looking too far ahead,” Bouwmeester said.
“I just want to get through the first year first and then see how we go.”
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