RICHMOND — A perception is that the Eastern Kentucky University football team has an extra hop in its step this season.
In this case, perception is reality. From Down Under.
Jordan Berry, a 6-foot-5, 190-pound redshirt freshman from Australia, provides the extra hop with his rugby-style punting skills.
EKU travels to Tennessee-Martin on Saturday, with Berry ranked 14th in the NCAA with an average of 41.8 yards per punt.
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His hop-step-and-punt style actually was honed on the football field — playing Australian Rules football. He played the Aussie game for high school and club teams.
Midway through his junior year, Berry became intrigued about the possibility of playing American football. He had seen a pair of Australians, Philadelphia Eagles punter Sav Rocca and the Arizona Cardinals' Ben Graham, on television.
A prolific kicker, Berry played the Australian game through his senior year.
He also played American football in 2008 for the Western Crusaders, as well as for Australia in the 2009 Junior World Championship of American Football qualifier against New Zealand.
Once out of high school, he turned his attention to the American game, practicing for about half a year before attending camps in California and Nevada.
At one camp, run by former EKU player Rick Sang, he met Colonels snapper and holder Jacob Claycomb and Taylor Long. Encouraged, Berry got in touch with EKU special teams coach Dane Damron.
A Colonel was born.
The biggest adjustment in going from Australian football to the American game?
"It's just the lack of running in this sport," Berry said. "You're sitting on the sideline all the time, trying to keep yourself warm. Whereas Australian football, it's similar to soccer where you're constantly running and moving. My high school field was 200 yards by about 160 yards wide, so you're running the whole time.
"But the main skill of just punting the ball is very similar, so it's pretty much getting out here and having fun with it without having to do all the hard stuff. It's quite enjoyable."
He also holds for place-kicker Logan O'Connor. Although his number hasn't been called yet, there are fakes in the playbook.
"I obviously want to, to get in and run a touchdown or something like that," Berry said. "It might be difficult with all those big boys on the other side of the line. But then again, nice and skinny, I'll be able to fit through a little gap."
Berry's pre-game warm-up must seem curious to Americans. He works from end zone to end zone. He'll punt the ball for distance, direction or height, shag the ball and repeat — all while jogging, if not on the run.
But the game, as well as surroundings, are a bit unusual to Berry, too.
Not only is he playing a different sport with an odd-shaped ball, he finds himself transplanted from a city of nearly 4 million in Melbourne to one of about 33,000 in Richmond. In class, spelling can be a challenge — the colour of a cheque being cause for confusion.
In Australia, hamburgers are commonly served with beetroot rather than tomato, and Berry gets curious looks when he tops his with plenty of carrots.
Oh, and he has an ample supply of the Down Under delicacy known as Vegemite, a brown food paste made from yeast products. He favors English muffins covered in Vegemite.
He has not been able to convert his teammates' taste buds, though: "I've had a couple guys vomit trying to eat it."
However, he has convinced the Colonels that he can kick.
Two weeks ago, in a 58-7 rout of Kentucky State, Coach Dean Hood even let Berry attempt a drop kick. He hurried the extra-point attempt and missed, but he continues to be dynamite as a punter.
Last week against Eastern Illinois, he had a 58-yarder. One kick was downed on the 1-yard line. Another went for a touchback, barely missing the coffin corner.
"I would have preferred to have it an extra half a yard out so it would have gone out of bounds at the 1," he said. "In Australian football, you've got to punt the ball to a target, like you're almost a quarterback trying to hit a receiver, but with a punt."
So far, nine of Berry's 24 punts have been downed inside the 20.
Saturday, he'll be ready to hop to it once more.
■ EKU has won all 20 meetings with Tennessee-Martin. However, the last three games have been decided by a total of 11 points.
■ The Colonels have lost six consecutive road games, dating to last season.
■ Sophomore quarterback T.J. Pryor needs 73 yards to become the 11th Colonel ever to pass for 3,000 yards.
■ A win would make EKU 2-0 in league play for the third time in four years.