UH punter Mat McBriar has averaged 43.7 yards per punt this season.

The punter from
Down Under

McBriar didn't shank
golden opportunity

By Cindy Luis

American football is to Australians what vegemite is to Americans.

An acquired taste.

Mat McBriar loves both.

The senior punter for the Hawaii football team has boomed his way into the UH record books in three seasons of on-the-job training. McBriar, from East Brighton, Australia, is third in career average (41.80 yards), fourth in total yards (1,254) and punts (126) and owns two of the longest punts in Warrior history (66 and 69 yards).

But for all of his success, McBriar is unknown to most of the college football world. His averages of 43.7 yards and 4.4-second hang time put him among the national elite, except McBriar isn't even ranked among the Western Athletic Conference leaders. (Fresno State's Jason Simpson leads with 67 punts for 2,746 yards, a 41-yard average).

Although he was named to the All-WAC first team, McBriar doesn't have enough punts to qualify statistically. Because Hawaii's offense has been so efficient, McBriar has only had to punt 43 times in 13 games this season, an average of 3.3 a game.

"No, I didn't get to punt the ball much, but I tried to make the most of each opportunity I had," he said. "I feel good about my time here and everything has worked out for the best.

"The whole process just to get to Hawaii took almost two years. I almost gave up. But I'm glad I stayed with it."

McBriar, an Australian Rules football player, was spotted at a punting competition in Australia. He advanced to the state final but was beaten by older kickers.

The contest organizers suggested he think about playing football in America. McBriar, tired of the battering he was taking in the Australian Rules games, hooked up with fellow Aussie Darren Bennett, the punter for the San Diego Chargers since 1995.

Through the Chargers' connection, two schools showed an interest in McBriar: Western Kentucky and Hawaii, the latter coached by former San Diego coach June Jones.

The only thing Western Kentucky had going for it was Churchill Downs. McBriar, an avid horse racing fan, thought it might be worth playing for the Hilltoppers in order to go to the Kentucky Derby.

"They were interested, but they already had a guy," said McBriar. "But I would have to sit out a year. I ended up doing some factory work back home, boxing stationery. When the opportunity came to go to Hawaii, I pounced on it."

It was an easy move for McBriar, whose hometown is near a beach. He loves to surf, although "I'm really pretty bad at it," he said.

The hard part was kicking a smaller ball. He was used to the Australian Rules football, which is between a rugby ball and the ball used in American football.

"And getting that two-step kick was hard," he said. "I was used to kicking on the run."

It didn't take long to get the hang of it. During his first year, the sophomore had five punts longer than 50 yards, including a then-best 65-yarder. As a junior, he boomed a 69-yarder against Tulsa and averaged 43.4 yards a game.

And then there was this year. And Cincinnati.

In the 20-19 win over the Bearcats, McBriar punted a season-high six times. He was solid every time, including a booming 66-yarder where the entire stadium could hear the connection.

"That felt pretty cool," he said. "It's really exciting when the crowd gets excited.

"And I really enjoyed playing against Alabama. They were classy, saying we could play with the best in the SEC."

McBriar's parents flew from Australia to watch his final two games. He said he was disappointed in Saturday's effort against San Diego State (three punts averaging 38 yards) but he enjoyed the senior walk and receiving numerous leis.

McBriar isn't thinking about his future. The economics major is about a year away from his degree and even the ConAgra Foods Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Day seems a long way off.

"I don't know much about Tulane, but being in a bowl is a nice way to go out," he said. "I still don't know what I want to do. I don't know if the (NFL) Draft will happen. I'm hoping it will. I'd like to play for San Diego. Go Bolts!"

He has one friend who could help in Bennett, who has worked with him on technique during the offseason.

"Most of the guys who ask me to help them come over want to play in the National Football League," Bennett said during the 2001 Pro Bowl week. "Mat, I thought, was very grounded and said, 'Look, I would like to go to college and just enjoy an American experience.' With that approach, he was one of the guys I decided to give a hand to."

McBriar likely will take a break from football, American and Australian, next month. He's already thinking about some of the big horse races coming up on Australia's Gold Coast.

And if he ever had a horse to call his own? It's an easy choice: Boom-erang.

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