There may not be a player fans hate to see more than their team’s punter.
After all, punters normally only see the field when an offensive drive has stalled.
They even come out to boos sometimes if fans feel the offense should go for it on fourth down.
Simply put, punters are underappreciated at best and dreaded at worst.
But USF fans should take a closer look at their punter, Trent Schneider. The 29-year-old junior from Australia is having quite the season and even played a major role in the Bulls’ 27-23 victory against BYU on Saturday.
With a little more than a minute remaining and the Bulls up four, “Aussie,” as coach Charlie Strong has nicknamed him, was called upon more or less in the shadow of his own goal post — USF’s drive had stalled on its 13-yard line.
Schneider put boot to ball and the next thing everyone at Raymond James Stadium knew, it went out of bounds 61 yards later at the BYU 26-yard line.
“I knew I had to deliver for the team,” Schneider said. “Big punt. If I hit it well, we have to just stop them on defense and we get the win. I did my job, the defense did their job, and we came away with a victory.”
The punt was dangerously close to being too good, even.
“Good thing it hit inbounds, then it bounced out so they didn’t have a chance to recover,” Strong said, “because he really outkicked the coverage. I looked at the coverage and I looked at the punt, and I was like, ‘Oh, God, don’t field this ball because we’re about 20 yards away from the returner.’”
The 61-yarder was the cumulation of a game in which Schneider set a program record for average yards per punt (52.8), eclipsing the previous record of 51.6 — set earlier this season by Schneider against Georgia Tech.
“He’s got a live leg,” Strong said, “and he can really let it go.”
Schneider has let it go a lot this year. Through the season’s first six games, he’s punted 36 times, with 15 going more than 50 yards. In 74 punts last season, a total of 17 went for more than 50.
A lot of the success he’s had this year is due in part to the changes he made during the offseason.
It’s not that his 2018 season was bad, Schneider said, it’s just that he worked on different things heading into this year to improve his game.
“Last year, I didn’t have a terrible year, but I wasn’t consistent,” Schneider said. “And that was the main thing I wanted to change this year. So I focused on ball drops, just doing the little things right — and confidence. So drop the ball and kick through the ball and know I’m going to hit a good ball.”
While Schneider’s story is unique in a sense — he owned his own construction company in Australia before deciding he wanted to follow his dreams of playing high-level sports — it’s not uncommon to see players from his homeland stateside these days.
Schneider worked with Prokick Australia, an organization that converts Australian athletes into American football punters. Prokick Australia has yielded 75 scholarships and/or professional contracts and 17 All-Americans since its inception in 2007, according to its website.
It’s a natural transition for athletes who grew up kicking. After all, the most popular sports in Australia are Australian football and rugby.
“We just grow up punting,” Schneider said. “Here, you guys throw a ball in the backyard. We just kick it.”
Schneider isn’t even the only Australian punter in the state of Florida. Miami’s Louis Hedley, who became popular on the internet because of his tattoos, hails from Mandurah in Western Australia. Jeremy Crawshaw from New South Wales committed to Florida in September.
“I think there’s 50-60 of us over here now, and it’s only going to get more,” Schneider said. “I’d imagine next year or the year after, there’s going to be 70-80 of us.”
Punting isn’t all Schneider does well. Schneider was named to the preseason watchlist for the Mortell Holder of the Year award for his holding ability on placekicks.
His flip to kicker Spencer Shrader on a fake field-goal attempt against UConn on Oct. 5 is arguably what made the play a success.
So the next time a drive stalls causing the offense to come off the field, fans don’t have to cheer or be happy.
But it might be nice to appreciate the player who seldom feels appreciation.