HELMETS OFF

Former Ute’s Biggest Regret Led Him To Become An Award-Winning Punter

Oct 30, 2018, 1:55 AM | Updated: 12:52 pm
Andy Phillips #39 of the Utah Utes attempts a field goal in the game against the Colorado Buffaloes...
Andy Phillips #39 of the Utah Utes attempts a field goal in the game against the Colorado Buffaloes Rice-Eccles Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Tom Hackett #33 of the Utah Utes is the holder. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A recognizable face to college football fans in Utah and throughout the Pac-12 Conference, Tom Hackett sat down with another former Ute, Scott Mitchell, to talk about how an Australian teenager with poor test scores ended up an award winning punter.

Hackett gave the credit of his unlikely rise to Youtube and a big risk taken by Jay Hill, former University of Utah assistant and current head coach at Weber State University.

Hackett said aside from family members, Hill was the single biggest influence on his life.

“He’s the one that gave me the chance,” he said.

It all began with what Hackett said was his truest love, Australian rules football, or as he calls it, “footy.” It’s similar to American football in that the team that scores the most points wins. That’s about where the similarities end. For the purposes of this story, specific rules are not important.

Although Hackett fell in love with Australian football, he admitted his biggest regret was that he didn’t have the drive to work hard enough during the off season to play at a professional level. Mitchell then asked what he was up to instead as a teenager in Australia.

“You know what I would do Scotty (his apparently nickname for Mitchell) – I would enjoy some beverages of choice,” he said.

The legal age to drink in Australia is 18, meaning during the last year of high school many teens celebrate the “big birthday.”

In Australia, similar to America, at the end of high school, students take tests – the scores of which determine where you can go to college. The difference is that in Australia you only get one chance.

Hackett told the story of his dad learning how he scored on the tests.

“I think he knew this wasn’t going to go well,” he said.

His dad sat in his room at 6 a.m., staring at him, waiting for the scores to come through. Neither Hackett nor his father was happy with the scores.

“My dad, bless his soul, stands up, stares at me, nods his head (and) walks out the door,” said Hackett.

Hackett said he didn’t regret the poor test scores because they were the reason he ended up in a program called Prokick Australia. The program taught Australian athletes to punt with the purpose of going to the United States to play in the NFL.

He was in the Prokick Australia program for 13 months, but it was 7 months before he could “turn over” an American football. When he finally learned and started to improve, coaches at Prokick Australia started calling coaches in the United States and putting film of Hackett on YouTube.

This is where coach Jay Hill took the risk. Hackett told Mitchell about when Coach Hill told Kyle Whittingham he wanted to go to Australia to find a punter. Hill flew to Australia, and Hackett came back with him, but because of NCAA rules, Hill couldn’t workout with or even watch Hackett punt. Hill only saw film of Hackett and other athletes in the program punting.

Listen: ‘What does a punter do?’

Hackett said Coach Whittingham didn’t know his name for about six months. For his part, Hackett admitted through his first few games he had no idea what was happening on the field and he “didn’t really care.”

The kickers eventually learned the rules and found success with the Utes. He won Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week during his first game against BYU, and two Ray Guy Awards.

Hackett’s last season with the University of Utah was 2015. He currently hosts a podcast with another University of Utah football alumni and former placekicker, Andy Phillips, called Special Forces Gang (SFG). They talk all things Utah football and throw in some fun life stories as well.

As for NFL aspirations, Hackett said he still has an agent. He knows which teams are in need at the punting position.

For conversations like this one and commentary on things happening in the world of sports subscribe to Helmets Off wherever you get your podcasts.

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Former Ute’s Biggest Regret Led Him To Become An Award-Winning Punter