To Americans, Australia is famous for its kangaroos, the shrimp on its barbies and all those great actors and actresses who’ve come from Down Under.
Now, too, it’s getting acclaim for its punters.
So, when the 49ers were searching for a successor to Bradley Pinion, they found possibly a great one in Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky, a former glass installer and Aussie Rules footballer from Perth who came to the U.S. and became the first three-time finalist for the Ray Guy Award, given annually to college football’s best punter.
The 49ers drafted Wishnowsky in the fourth round Saturday, and believe they have a punter with the potential to be a difference maker for a long time.
"We thought Mitch Wishnowsky was a big-time prospect," general manager John Lynch told reporters. "Kyle (Shanahan) and I studied punters this year more than we ever will. Hopefully, he’s the long-term answer. We’re talking like a 10-year guy. … We felt like had we not taken him there, he would have been taken."
Wishnowsky, who is 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, won the Ray Guy Award in his first season at Utah in 2016 (after transferring from a community college), when he averaged 47.7 yards per punt. As a junior and senior he averaged 43.9 and 45.2 yards per punt.
Wishnowsky, 27, decided to try punting in Australia after being injured in the Aussie Rules game. Ever since former Aussie Rules standout Darren Bennett came to the U.S. in the 1990s and revolutionized punting with his strong leg and directional kicks – and ability to deaden the ball so it dies deep in opponents’ territories – a flood of Aussies have followed in his footsteps.
More than 75 punters from Down Under have played college football and many have graduated to the NFL (such as Lac Edwards, Jordan Berry and Brad Wing).
After San Francisco selected Wishnowsky, he was called by Shanahan, who told him how excited he was to bring the Utah standout to Levi’s Stadium.
"You were targeted from the beginning," Shanahan told him, according to the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. "We were worried we were going to lose you, but we got you here, man, so we’re pumped up."
Wishnowsky also will likely serve as the holder for the 49ers place-kicker in 2019. He served in that role at Utah for Matt Gay, one of the nation’s top collegiate kickers.