Most kids grow up watching the NFL or college football, dreaming of one day wearing the jersey of their favorite team. But for Tom Hornsey, who grew up in Australia playing rugby, college football or the NFL for that matter, never even entered his mind.
“I didn’t even know this existed to be honest,” he said. “It has been a good thing. I would have never thought that I would be here, and I am grateful for it.”
Hornsey was named Monday as the Ray Guy Award Player of the Week for his performance against UT Martin on Saturday. He punted six times, three of which were downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, including a 70-yard rocket that completely flipped the field.
“I’m pretty happy with the award and that it is being recognized,” Hornsey said. “Then again, it’s all about helping the team on the field and doing my job. If I do that, I suppose the awards will come.”
“I definitely wasn’t happy against Cincinnati,” Hornsey explained. “It’s probably the first time I didn’t feel that comfortable out there. I’m not sure what it was. I think it was maybe my preparation previous to that week. I really wanted to make sure that I’ve got my mind right, and didn’t take anything for granted and really tried to come out this week and be relaxed, and do what I know how to do. I really wanted to make up for the Wednesday game.”
Like any other position, there is plenty of preparation and technique required to be a successful punter. Hornsey admitted that he sometimes tries to hit the long ball, rather than focus on what has gotten him to this point, and what he needs to do to help the team win.
“If I go out there and think I need to kick a long ball like I did against Cincinnati, which was kind of selfish in a way, and the returner can return the ball, that’s not going to help the team,” he said. “What I need to do is stick to the game plan, what I’ve been doing and try to help the team out as much as possible with getting good field position.”
Despite all of his success, Hornsey said that he tries not thinking about what will happen after this season. He said that he is happy with what he is doing now, and that if he the NFL comes calling, he will be ready to perform.
Back home in Australia, punters get paid for their services, but not quite as extravagantly as they do in the NFL. Hornsey said that the top rugby punters can get up to a million dollars a year, but that as a rookie, you are looking at somewhere around $100,000.
Now that he lives the States full time, Hornsey said that he catches about one NFL game per week simply because his roommates watch it all the time. That usually wasn’t the case growing up in Australia.
“We didn’t really have a TV station that broadcasted it until recently, so I ended up watching it some,” he said. “I actually tried to learn the game through that as well. It’s not big over there, but it’s there now.”
Hornsey now has just four games left in his college career; most of which have gone by without his parents in the stands. He said that they came over in 2010 for his first year and were able to stay for the first couple of games; but other than that, his parents rarely get to see him play. They will now be in the stands for the final four games of the season and be on the field with him for senior day on Nov. 30, expressing just how proud they are of their son.
“They say it to me a fair bit,” Hornsey said. “They are really happy that they can just come over here and see me play. I believe they are happy parents, and are just really enjoying the experience along with me as well.”
Hornsey has punted 41 times this season, 13 of which have gone over 50 yards, including a 79-yard punt against Duke. Special teams players are not always recognized for what they bring to a football team, but players like Tom Hornsey don’t come along often.
Not only is he one of the best punters in the country, but also is an excellent representation of hard work and determination. Hornsey once worked in a paint shop back in Australia making $29 an hour, which would amount to about $60,000 a year. If he makes it the NFL, he will be making that much every time he takes the field.
The Aussie may have never dreamed of playing in the league as a kid, but if he keeps this up, he will be kicking on Sundays next fall.
“Everybody thinks about the future, and what they need to have a good life and support themselves,” Hornsey explained. “It really is an added bonus to be able to play a sport you love playing.”