Luke Jones, who just arrived Friday from Australia to kick for the Albany State Rams, works out Wednesday afternoon at ASU. It’s up in the air whether he will play against Valdosta State.
ALBANY -- Australian Luke Jones is nearly 10,000 miles away from his family and the country he has called home for the past 21 years.
On Wednesday, Albany State's newest punter and kicker said the toughest thing to adjust to in America is the menu.
More specifically -- Jones is adjusting to life without kangaroo.
"We are the only country in the world to eat their coat of arms," Jones laughed. "People ask me, 'you eat kangaroo?' I say, 'yeah, and we eat Koala, too.' But we don't actually eat Koala.
"A few of the players are asking me if I can get some kangaroo, and I said I will check the quarantine laws, but I can't see myself getting any over here."
The kangaroo may never make its way to Albany -- but Jones did on Friday, completing a journey that took him 26 hours on four different flights. Jones, who was recently named the top American football kicker in Australia, gives ASU a special teams weapon that they desperately need.
"We recruited him to come in here and kick and punt or both, and we need him to give us that," ASU coach Mike White said. "Right now we aren't consistent at either one of them. Ryan (Latner) did a fairly good job coming back there to help us punt, but I do believe we do need more consistency there."
It's still questionable whether or not Jones, a former Australian Rules football player from Adeline, Australia, will be ready to play Saturday against Valdosta State, but he will certainly be a weapon whenever he does step on the field. He can kick a field goal up to 57 yards and has punted it 65-70 yards on the fly.
"With that being said, I did get the wind a little bit that day," Jones said with a laugh about his 70-yard punt. "But when you hit them right, you hit them right. And they just fly."
Albany State kickers Tory Torstenson and Brandon Hamilton have struggled this year, hitting just 6-of-11 extra points. However, Jones said he doesn't feel any pressure to turn ASU's kicking game around
"I've read that it needs turning around, but now I am part of the special teams," Jones said. "I'm not here to change the special teams. I am here to improve it. And I think regardless if we had the best kicker in the nation right now, I would still be wanting to improve it."
In fact, Jones said Torstenson, Hamilton and the rest of the Rams -- including his new roommate defensive back Gary Howard -- have accepted his as one of their own.
"Before I got into the dorm, I was staying with Tory and Brandon off campus and sleeping on their couch," said Jones, who will be studying physical education. "That was great. It meant that I could be helped into the college life. I was able to be with the kickers and know what is expected with me."
Jones is also beginning to understand what is expected out of the Albany State football program that has made the NCAA Div. II playoffs seven straight years and has a record of 87-36 since White began coaching in 2000.
And when he flies back to Australia for Christmas, he said he wants to do so with a ring on his finger.
"I looked at the back of T-shirts that trainers were wearing, and they have all these numbers of years they have won," Jones said. "That's a lot. That's domination. It really helped me to have confidence in doing it again. How are we not going to do it again? How are we not going to be able to walk away with a ring? I'm here to win rings, and I'm here to help the team do that."
Jones' journey to Albany began three years ago when he picked up the video game Madden '08.
"I saw the game in the store, and I always wondered what it was about," said Jones. "One day I saw it on sale, so I just bought it. I thought, 'whatever, I'll give it a go.' "
That purchase on a whim taught him the rules of football and got him interested in a sport that he started to watch on TV. Eventually, he sent an email to the Australian Kicking and Punting Academy about his desire to translate his kicking style into one for American football.
"They said to come back for a kick, and my coach there liked what he saw even though it was very raw," Jones said. "He invested a lot of faith in me. He taught me how to punt over the next six months. I started to kick as well, so I was doing both for the next 18 months."
Jones was kicking and punting an average of 1,000 footballs per week and said his ultimate goal is to wind up in the NFL like his favorite professional athlete -- current Australian and Cowboy punter Mat McBriar.
But it took some time for Jones to figure out how to kick an American football instead of an Australian Rules football, which is oval-shaped, bigger and designed to spin backwards.
"It's not designed to spiral like the American ball," Jones said about the Australian Rules ball. "As far as getting the ball to spiral and turn over, without a doubt American footballs are easier to do that with."
Jones' life changed drastically when the NCAA changed its academic eligibility requirements for this season, giving him the chance to kick for an American university. Albany State was the first school to express interest in Jones this summer, and the Australian kicker jumped at the opportunity to play for one of the most successful Division II schools in the country.
ASU special teams coach Kenyan Conner was key in recruiting Jones to Albany and was one of the coaches who welcomed him off the plane late Friday night.
"When I saw him, he was ready to go sleep somewhere. The only thing he kept asking about was where a bed was," said Conner. "We are happy to have him, and hopefully it gives us another dimension in punting and kicking."
Jones said he may like punting better because there is more creativity to it than kicking field goals, which are simply "put through the uprights."
But when asked if he was better at kicking field goals or punting, he said he wasn't sure.
"Depends on if the game is on the line or not. It's splitting hairs to say if I'm better at kicking field goals or punting," Jones said.
"I'm just so happy I am here, because I want to go home with a ring on my finger."