Moving the Chains with ... Southern Illinois Salukis punter Jack Colquhoun

Southern Illinois punter Jack Colquhoun celebrates after the team’s victory against South Dakota State in Brookings, S.D. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)

Living a world away from family and friends hasn’t dented Jack Colquhoun’s zest for life.

A native Australian with a collegiate background in Aussie rules football, he ended up in a punting academy in his hometown of Melbourne that led him to Carbondale and a job for the past three seasons as the Southern Illinois punter.

Though the pace of life is different in Southern Illinois as compared to his bustling hometown, Colquhoun (pronounced kuh-hoon) has embraced the region and its football fans, even if he’s still in awe when 10,000 people show up for games and he’s asked to sign autographs and take pictures.  

Colquhoun hasn’t seen his family for nearly a year-and-a-half amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but care packages from home keep him connected and allow him to share his culture with teammates.

A vegetarian who was the captain of his college team at Bond University in Australia, Colquhoun is pursuing a master’s degree in economics in hopes of a job that would allow him to travel the world.

As SIU’s punter, he’s on the verge of a historic season. He ranks 11th in the nation in punting average (44.17 yards), which would be a new school record. If pro football comes calling, he’s willing to put a career in finance on hold.

Learn all about Colquhoun in Prairie State Pigskin’s Moving the Chains Q&A interview:

How did you start punting?

I had just completed my finance degree (at Bond), and I was looking to further my studies. I wanted to complete my master’s, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. I found a program in Melbourne, my hometown, called Prokick Australia and two coaches there – Coach John Smith and Coach Nathan Chapman – run a punting academy.

Jack Colquhoun

It was pretty enticing because I was able to keep my kicking going with my background in Aussie rules while also trying to find a scholarship to be able to further my studies. That was something that was really big for me. It was always something that I thought, ‘What could eventually come of this?’ I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to come play at Southern. The rest is history.

What was the transition like to go from Aussie rules to full-time punting?

It was something that took a little time to get used to. The biggest thing was being more spatially aware with wearing pads and a helmet. Playing Aussie rules, we play in tank tops and shorts and we run around in just that. Learning how to traditionally punt (instead of Aussie rules style kicks) was something that took a lot of my time. That is so fundamental to punting here. I really didn’t have much football knowledge coming into my time at Prokick, so we did a lot of education sessions, learning about the game.

Does the NFL have a following in Melbourne?

The biggest thing is the time difference (16 hours ahead). A lot of the games are quite early in the morning, so it’s always hard to catch NFL games at a decent hour of the morning. We get a lot of highlights. I think we’ve got five Australian punters – all of which came from Prokick Australia – who are punting in the NFL right now. So we do get a lot of highlights. A lot of TV packages play the games during the night, so a lot of people do stay up now. When there is a mid-morning game, most of the fans will be at the pubs watching on TV. There is a culture of American football that is growing in Australia. It is slowly picking up because of the Australian involvement (among punters).

What were the biggest transitions for you into American culture?

The biggest thing was just the pace. I lived in Melbourne, which is a city of 6 million people and I come to Carbondale, Illinois, where there’s about 40,000 or 50,000 in the surrounding area. It was a nice change of pace to me. I was ready to focus in on my football and my studies and being here was a real perfect place for me to hone in on what I wanted to focus on the last couple of years. I’ve been able to do that really well. There’s a real sense of community as well here. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the community over the past couple of years.

The biggest thing is the sporting culture here. I’m an almost 24-year-old athlete and there’s people who come to my games and want my signature and want to take photos, so that’s something we never had at the college level playing Aussie rules back home. To play in front of 10s of thousands of people and have people follow you on Twitter who are huge fans and all that stuff, that was a culture shock for me because I feel like I’m still just a student.

If someone from back home is sending you a care package, what’s in it?

Mom (Tracey) actually sends me a box every couple of months. My checklist includes my sister (Ellie), who owns and runs a granola company, so I always get a little care package of her new flavors and some of the old goodies. I always love that. Mom’s a big baker as well, so she makes some chocolate goodies that get sent as well. I have a sweet tooth, so I do like my Australian candies. A couple of bags of them will get thrown in as well. I once got a re-supply of Vegemite (a savory spread popular in Australia). I know not a lot of people like Vegemite here, but I do love some Vegemite on toast in the morning.

You were recently mic’d up at an SIU practice, which highlighted your relationships with teammates and coaches. How have you enjoyed the camaraderie of American football?

It’s a great sense of community. We spend so much time together during the year and we get so close. You could see that, how well we were acquainted with each other and the high regard we hold for each other. You can see through our success the mutual respect we have for each other, coaches and players and staff. We’re all close friends. That’s what allows us to be successful. My relationship with (special teams coordinator) Coach (Jami) DeBerry, I can really feel what’s happening during a game and what I’m liking and what I’m not and we can have that conversation together about where we want to go with our next punt. I think that is a really big thing, to showcase the relationships players have with coaches. That’s allowed us to be as successful as we have been this season.

As a player, what’s the most rewarding part of the program’s growth into a Top 5 team nationally?

It’s almost a byproduct of how hard we’ve worked. To be a Top 5 team in the nation, it never comes easy. But to think of where the program was before I got here – coming off a 2-9 season – and then three seasons later we’re 6-1 and leading the conference. It’s a measure of how hard we’ve worked and that we haven’t stopped. We’ve continually worked and never thought where we are is good enough. We’re always trying to do better. That’s’ been one of the biggest things. And, staying humble as well. We beat North Dakota State in the spring and we never let that get to us. We kept pushing and driving. It’s a huge barometer of our success. We never let those big moments get to us. It’s expected of us. We’re a good team and any day we can beat anyone. We don’t treat a big win or a normal win any different.

Is there an American food that you’ve really come to enjoy in your time in Carbondale?

There’s a café in Carbondale called Longbrach Café & Bakery. I’m a vegetarian, and it’s a vegetarian café. I had vegetarian biscuits and gravy this week with my girlfriend. I actually quite enjoyed it. It’s a bit different. We don’t have biscuits and gravy back home. I know it’s a big Midwestern thing. I tried it for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Are there Australian foods that you enjoy sharing with teammates?

They’re called Barney Bananas. It’s almost like a Laffy Taffy, but it’s more of a normal candy. I’ve gotten a fair few people to try them. They’ve been quite a hit around the team room. I would say our Kit Kats are made differently in Australia, so I’ve had a few of them that I’ve handed around, and the boys seemed to like them a lot.

You currently have the best season punting average in SIU history. What do you attribute your success to?

I’ve been fortunate to have a special teams coordinator that really looks out for me, and we’ve put in some things that really have worked well this season. One of my big focuses was fair-caught footballs. No matter what, just make sure (punts) are fair caught or that it denies a return. That’s allowed me to be as successful as I have been. It’s just working tirelessly over the summer on hang time and all those hallmarks of a good punt. It’s paying off now. But that (success) also falls on the punt team itself, having Dan (Heilbron) and Ross (Pedro) being such good long snappers and having everyone else on punt team protecting and getting down the field has been massive as well. All 10 guys on the field and Coach DeBerry on the sideline have very much helped me get to where I am at the moment.

Where would you like football to take you?

At the moment, it’s taken me to a place I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Carbondale is very close to my heart, along with the friends and family I’ve met along the way. I met my girlfriend playing college football as well, so I’m forever grateful. A professional career or not, I have a lot of things to take out of my time here in Carbondale that I’ll be forever thankful for. You can’t ask a D-I player not to have professional aspirations. It’s always there and it’s a matter of seeing if there’s a team that’s looking for someone like me. I don’t know what that looks like until it happens.

Away from Carbondale, has there been a game that has really opened your eyes to how big college football is on Saturdays in the U.S.?

(Playing in) Manhattan, Kansas (earlier this season) opened my eyes to the true potential of college football. That was my first big experience playing a high-caliber program in Kansas State. That was unbelievable. To be out there and punt a couple times was pretty surreal. Walking out there before the game and seeing an empty stadium, then being out there when the game started to a packed house was something you dream of. I always envisioned having that experience at least once in my college career. It was a bucket list moment for sure.

Who does the best imitation of you on the team?

I definitely think the boys love to try and give their little spin on an Aussie accent, but they always seem to end up sounding pretty British. They still try nonetheless. I would say the specialist group loves trying to give their best Aussie accent. Dan and Ross are big proponents of that. But everyone falls short because I do have quite an ambiguous accent. So it tends to throw people off.

Who do you consider the biggest mentor in your life?

My dad (Tim) has been a huge proponent for my success as an individual. My parents in general have told me that no matter where life takes you, make sure you do it because you want to do it. I haven’t seen my family in almost 17 months. That’s been hard. Being away from them has always been difficult. But Dad always told me that whatever you do in life, make sure you put your whole heart into it. I’ve lived in Australia, Indonesia and now the United States. To know I have their blessing to go and travel the world and live in different countries and experience life for what it truly is has made my experiences 10 times better. I know I have their support always. Next week, they’re going to have get up at 4 a.m. (to watch the game against Northern Iowa), but Dad is like, ‘I look forward to nothing more than getting up early and watching you play.’ Having them in my corner has been a huge help for me. My Dad has been a huge mentor, telling me to go out and chase my dreams, no matter where in the world they take me.

After football, what is your dream job?

I would love a nice corporate job. But I’m very laissez-faire. I like to have my time to enjoy the sweeter things in life as well. I’m looking to find a remote job in whatever format that is and travel the world. I haven’t spent any time in Europe and that’s kind of my plan upon graduating is to explore that part of the world. Finding a job where I can work from wherever and just dot myself around the world for the next two years is my ideal work going forward. But we’ll see what happens. You never know with football.

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