MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – If you booked a ticket for a flight from Melbourne, Australia, to Morgantown, you should block off more than 24 hours just for traveling. The journey will likely include at least two stops, and will take you across the largest ocean on planet Earth, four timezones in the continental United States alone as you go from the southern Aussie beaches to the Appalachian Mountains.
In the case of WVU true freshman punter Oliver Straw, the journey took him thousands of miles away from home, but not far from a place he temporarily called home for six months.
Straw, a native of Melbourne previously spent six months in New Jersey as a foreign exchange student. He played basketball and football for Shore Regional High School in West Long Branch, but on the gridiron, he wasn’t a punter. Instead, he was a defensive end and a tight end for the school’s junior varsity program.
After those six months, he returned to Australia, but he knew he would eventually be stateside again.
“I always wanted to come to the states for college in some way for sports,” said Straw. “[I] didn’t know if it was going to be for basketball or American football.”
A family friend with on-hand experience in the NFL had seen Straw boot the football. That vote of confidence led to Straw developing his kicking game more, which led to a stint with one of the top programs for sending international players to the US.
That program is ProKick Australia, an organization that has developed six Ray Guy Award winners and 15 professional kickers or punters to the NFL or CFL. It’s also the home of former WVU punter Josh Growden.
Straw worked with coaches at ProKick for roughly a year and a half during the COVID-19 pandemic. He was also one of the youngest kickers or punters in the building, with some others there looking for a college scholarship being 25 years old or older.
“Working with them eventually got me the opportunity to come here, and as soon as I heard about it, and had a phone call with the coaches, I was pretty much all in and set on coming here.”
While recruiting practices in the US changed during the pandemic, Straw encountered a different type of recruiting process entirely.
Coaches and administrators at ProKick handled much of his recruiting. According to Straw, the kickers in the program aren’t truly involved in the process until interest from a US-based school becomes serious.
He added that he was aware other schools were interested in him, but it appears West Virginia was the most serious in going after the Melbourne native.
“Going in and learning from those guys, and making my way through [Prokick], was kind of the process of how I decided that I want to get here, and I wanted to come to a school like West Virginia and play football at a high level,” said Straw.
Aside from the cultural differences between “the Land Down Under” and life in America, one of the biggest adjustments for Straw was the equipment he’s required to wear during games and practices. Specifically, it was his helmet and pads. But there were other differences, too.
“We play on an oval back home. This is on, obviously, a rectangular field,” said Straw. “It’s just different. But, it’s been a good adjustment, and I love the sport.”
Another difference for Straw was facing an all-out rush from an opposing special teams unit, something he didn’t experience until this spring. Snow was another new experience.
Straw has adjusted well, though.
Despite ranking sixth in the Big 12 in average yards per punt (41.6), he and the Mountaineers have the third-best net punt average (40.3). That’s not only thanks to a good coverage unit, but also due to proper punt placement, which has led to 13 fair catches and just six return yards.
Against Texas Tech last Saturday, Straw booted career-best punts of 54 and 63 yards. His performance garnered recognition from the Big 12 Conference.
“It’s an honor to be named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week,” Straw said. “I wasn’t expecting it, honestly. I was just going out there and doing as much as I could to help the team in the little role that I do have on the field. It’s an honor especially, but I couldn’t have done it without my snapper and my coverage unit, as well.”
Multiple other Big 12 specialists, including TCU’s Jordy Sandy, are ProKick products.
He’ll reunite with Sandy this weekend as No. 7 TCU visits West Virginia on homecoming weekend.
So, not only will West Virginia University alumni flock to Morgantown to celebrate the good times, but Straw will get a small reminder of home, too. A nice reward following his best performance to date in the US.