There figures to be a lot of players making their JSU debuts in the opener at Arkansas — the number has been put at 10 to 12 — but none the likes of Hamish MacInnes.
The freshman punter from Australia came to JSU with a long leg, a keen sense of competition and absolutely no experience in an American football game.
Heck, Monday was the first time he ever had a football helmet on his head. Crowe is interested to see today when the player puts on the full gear for the first time.
“That’s neat,” Crowe said. “You’re talking about a guy who’s (getting) first total experience on a football field with football players — that’s rare. And he’s unaffected by it.”
Indeed. MacInnes walked out on the practice field with his teammates for the first time and could have been taken for any of the non-linemen out there. He stretched, kicked the ball far and fell to the ground with a laugh when he took a shot in the side from the Jugs machine at a moment of lost focus.
“It was good fun; a new experience, good fun,” MacInnes said after his first practice. “It’s good to sort of get an understanding of the pace and get used to the helmet. I know what I’ve got to do, so I’m feeling a bit more comfortable.
“A lot of the guys I’ve been around now for a couple of months and they’re great to me, so it’s not like I felt intimidated or anything like that. You always get a little bit nervous, but that’ll probably disappear in the next few days.”
It’ll probably take longer for Crowe to get over the novelty of MacInnes on the football field than the punter getting used to this game.
MacInnes’ experience is Australian Rules Football and that’s where he developed his big leg. JSU special teams coordinator Maxwell Thurmond saw it for the first time in a scouting video sent through a Las Vegas kicking school Australian kids attend in hopes of landing a football scholarship at an American university. Crowe quickly pointed out to athletics director Warren Koegel the program did not pick up an airfare from Down Under to Over Yonder.
Since his arrival, MacInnes has been dazzling his teammates with long driving punts and impressive hang times — and those qualities translate across any game.
“I’d say something to him about it and he’ll say, ‘Have you ever seen the game, coach?” Crowe said. “And he’s got me, because I hadn’t. I’m thinking soccer and he knows I’m thinking soccer, and it’s not soccer.
“In the back of your mind you don’t realize the guy’s never had on a football uniform before. Part of me is saying I’m going to put a guy out there against Arkansas who has never been in a football uniform before. And when I ask him this question, that’s when he says have you ever seen it.
“Is it like rugby? Those (football) people come after those punters and hit that wedge, that’s not powder puff. They bring some violent people very big running very fast at that shield up there. I’ve got that experience waiting for me.”
There’s a part of MacInnes, though, that gives Crowe confidence the player can handle it. He reminds the coach a lot of Richie Rhodes, the three-time All-American punter early in Crowe’s JSU tenure.
“When your kickers are competitors, when they’re guys (who), if their body fit it, they’d be a good linebacker, Hamish has that competitiveness about him,” Crowe said. “You can tell his juices are flowing, he’s into it. He’ll be one I’ll be settling down and saying, ‘OK, Hamish, don’t try to kick it 90 yards.’ He’ll be trying to win the game on every play. And (kicker Griffin) Thomas has got that same thing.”
Thomas was elevated to the Gamecocks’ full-time kicker when James Esco gave up football to take a lucrative first job in South Florida.
MacInnes may be getting comfortable in his new digs, but there are still some things about this game that will take getting used to. Like the equipment. It’s a lot different in American football than the Australian Rules variety. That is to say, there’s a lot more of it.
The first thing was the helmet. There was no problem fitting into one.
“I really expected it to be, like, restricting my vision, but it’s completely fine,” MacInnes said. “They’re pretty good helmets these days. After getting the newness out of the way, you forget you’re wearing them.”
As the week has gone on, the kit has gotten larger. Today, it will be helmet, shoulder pads and all the rest. Crowe suggested it might be fun to have a film crew nearby to capture MacInnes climbing into all his gear for the first time.
“I’ll be fine,” the punter said. “Obviously it’ll take a little bit to get adjusted to; give me three or four kicks and I’ll be fine.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.