Ohio State's punting phenom talks NFL combine and beyond
Punting is a dirty word in a rabid football city like Columbus, especially under Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who appears to be in actual physical pain anytime he’s forced to give up possession. But a reliable punter is priceless for any team making consistent championship runs, and there have been few Buckeyes as talented as Cameron Johnston, who completed his final season in December.
Johnston—an Australian, as is the trend among recent collegiate greats—earned his degree in sports industry and education in 2016, and he leaves with his name stamped atop the OSU record books. He finished fourth all-time in punting average for a season (46.7 yards, 2016), second in punting average for a career (44.9 yards), first for punting average in a single game (57.0 yards, as well as placing second, 53.8 yards, and fourth, 52.2 yards) and first for number of punts downed inside the 20 in a season (31, 2015) and a career (104).* In 2016, he was named a second-team All-American, first-team All-Big Ten, the Big Ten punter of the year and a finalist for the Ray Guy Award for the nation’s best punter. Add in a key starting role on the 2014 National Championship team, and there’s a case to be made that he’s the greatest at his position in school history.
Johnston now works at Grandview Pro Fitness—a new gym owned by his girlfriend’s uncle, Dr. Shawn Bailey—as a personal trainer and instructor of group fitness classes. I caught up with him fresh off a 10-day trip to San Diego to practice for the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins today; Johnston will participate in on-field drills this Friday, March 3.
Looking back on your career at Ohio State, what are you most proud of?
It would have to be the National Championship, when we won that. That was an amazing experience, and I was able to have family come over for that.
I saw you’re training for the NFL Combine right now—do you have any expectations about getting drafted, or where that might happen?
Punters barely get drafted, so at the end you get one or two each year. So it’s more [to] go to the combine later this month and try to put my best foot forward there, and then try and get a free agent spot somewhere. The big thing is just trying to get a spot where you can compete.
I know with the combine there’s a lot of focus on bench press and that kind of stuff. Is that something that you concern yourself with since your position’s a little different?
Yeah, not too much. It’s more the on-field [drills]. So we’ll have 16 punts each—four right, four left, four going out and then four going in. That’s the biggest part is the interviews and then on the third day performing when you need it.
So once your football career is done—whether that’s six months from now, a year from now, 20 years from now, whenever it is—what’s your plan for what comes next?
I’ve always wanted to stay within sport and health and fitness—yeah, strength and conditioning coach or personal training—staying within the sport industry. I’ve always loved it, from a young age.
What’s your favorite healthy meal?
Healthy meal? Has to be anything to do with chicken, just cooking chicken up and trying to make it as healthy as possible.
What’s your favorite unhealthy meal?
Chocolate, I think. I have to moderate that. [laughs]
What’s your favorite activity or hobby when you’re not working, working out or playing football?
So I grew up right next to Bells Beach [in Australia]. It’s down in the surf coast area, down in Victoria, down in the bottom, so going to the beach and that type of thing and getting to the coast. Or even—since coming to Columbus—going up into the lake in summer.
What do you miss most about Australia?
The summers and the warmer weather. I never saw snow before coming over. I think the coldest I saw was 45, like I used to think that was freezing.
What do you like most about living in Columbus?
The people, honestly. … I had nine friends come over for the Nebraska game, and they just couldn’t get over how nice everyone was and [how] accommodating they are. Yeah, just the people. It’s a great place to live.
*Stats compiled from ohiostatebuckeyes.com, espn.com and scout.com.