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Taking a punt.

Brett Thorson on leaving the dairy farm in Dumbalk North to kicking one of the longest punts in Dawgs' history.

Apr 20, 2023

Words: Matt Dunn
Images: Supplied

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He’s a “pretty normal dude from Dumbalk North” who has found himself at the centre of a football fanaticism that knows no limits.

Brett Thorson, 23, grew up playing the native game of Australian Rules at local clubs Leongatha and Meeniyan Dumbalk United before his father, Russell ‘Jacko’ Thorson, suggested a switch to American Football. The rest, as they say, is history. Though, in truth, much of that history is yet to be written. Speaking in sporting parlance, there is a hell of a lot of upside to the kid’s game.

“It’s definitely a crazy situation,” says Thorson, the newest punter for the University of Georgia and a member of its 2022 national championship team. “It’s something that I’m very appreciative of. I try to look back on it a fair bit – how far away and how different it really is from where I started. It’s a different world to the old dairy farm out there.”

'Different' is to put it mildly. Being “one of the bigger teams”, Georgia’s games are broadcast on major networks like ESPN and ABC. Its December 31, 2022, playoff game attracted a TV audience of about 22 million.

"...I try to look back on it a fair bit – how far away and how different it really is from where I started. It’s a different world to the old dairy farm out there.”

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The punter’s role, in simple terms, is to “kick the ball as far down the field as possible and minimise the opposition’s opportunities to make a return”. But it’s no easy thing. “It’s kind of like a golf swing. There are so many tiny things that can go wrong and we spend hours and hours at training and away from training just trying to perfect it. If you’re off by even a centimetre it can be pretty ugly for you and the team.” And your time is seriously limited, as the ball is fed to you quickly and you’re at risk of getting crunched if you don’t kick it fast.

The Bulldogs, or ‘Dawgs’ as they are more commonly known in the southern state, recently won back-to-back national championships. Brett missed out on the 2021 championship tilt, having only just arrived from Australia.

Such is the prominence of the team and the sport in America that a furore has erupted because the Dawgs have not been given an invitation to meet President Joe Biden at the White House.

Never one to big note himself, the humble Gippslandian lets his feet do the talking. His impressive list of 2022 statistics includes a season-long punt of 75 yards, the longest punt by a Bulldog in 13 years and the tenth longest in the university’s storied history.

“I’d hope to have a shot at taking my career further. But, right at the moment my focus is completing my schooling at Georgia and doing the best possible job I can for this team,” he says.

Brett is not the only Aussie trying to make a mark in the American game. Coached by Nathan Chapman and John Smith at Prokick Australia, Brett was just one of about 200 young Australian men who've secured sports at universities in the States. These guys have built strong connections, "Over here, we're a big family and you keep in contact."

“I’ve been fortunate enough to play against a bunch of the boys. I hadn’t known them previously, but when I met them on game day I felt like I’d known them for years,” he says.

Taking a Punt with Brett Thorson. Photograph // Jackson Collier.
Taking a Punt with Brett Thorson. Photograph // Jackson Collier.

Brett owes the idea to give the sport a shot to his dad. “It came about through a throwaway conversation one day on the phone. I thought he was taking the piss, but he brought it back up a week later,” Brett explains. “I said, ‘Oh, you were actually serious?’ He said, ‘Why not?’” Guided by the idea he had nothing at all to lose, Brett made contact and was given an assessment. The team at Prokick liked what they saw.

Jacko and Brett’s mother, Andrea, got a taste of the fanaticism surrounding football in Georgia when they came to watch the two 2022 playoff games on December 31, 2022, and in early January 2023.

“On the day of the playoff game, I’m with my mum and dad and some of my best mates from Australia. We had to walk from the end of the foyer to the hotel entrance. That’s where all the fans were and we probably got stopped about 10 times on the way to the entry for photos and autographs,” he says.

“I’d become familiar with this, but my parents and mates were flipping out. I don’t take it too seriously. I’ll always see myself as a pretty normal dude from Dumbalk North.”

Taking a Punt with Brett Thorson. Photograph // Kasey Thorson.
Taking a Punt with Brett Thorson. Photograph // Kasey Thorson.

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