NFL

Super Bowl 2020: Australian Wishnowsky's journey from glazier to 49ers punter

By Sports Desk January 31, 2020

Mitch Wishnowsky was out fishing when he got the phone call that changed his life.

He was a 20-year-old glazier in Western Australia, slowly getting back to normal after suffering from dengue fever in Bali.

The voice on the other end of the line had little sympathy, though.

"Mitch, are you done messing about in Bali?" John Smith asked.

"Stop wasting your life."

It was the first time Wishnowsky had spoken to Smith, the head coach of Prokick Australia, an organisation set up to help those Down Under have a career in American football.

"[He was] yelling at me, basically," Wishnowsky told Omnisport.

"Told me he'd change my life, [to] quit my job tomorrow, move to Melbourne. I was sold."

His parents, at least initially, were not, but on Sunday Wishnowsky will be punting for the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.

It will be the realisation of a life-long dream... Sort of.

He had grown up playing soccer and Australian rules football, though shoulder injuries meant he had to give up the latter.

Wishnowsky had been urged to try American football - the flag variety - by some friends and it was when he was "messing around" punting that he caught the attention of someone who knew Smith and his colleague Nathan Chapman - both of whom spent time in the NFL.

"I always dreamed of being a pro athlete," Wishnowsky added.

"I was 20 and I had to give [Australian rules] away. I was devastated. I'm 20, I'm not going to be a pro athlete, time to move on.

"Randomly, this came out of the blue, this was my last chance."

From Melbourne, Wishnowsky went to a junior college in Santa Barbara and onto college in Utah, and in 2016 he won the Ray Guy Award, given to college football's best punter.

The NFL beckoned and the 49ers selected Wishnowsky in last year's draft, the rookie establishing himself as the team's starting punter in their run to the Super Bowl, where they face the Kansas City Chiefs in Miami.

He may be one of the few from his country in the NFL, but those who do hail from Australia tend to be punters.

Michael Dickson, Lachlan Edwards, Jordan Berry and Cameron Johnston all hold starting jobs in that position, and Wishnowsky puts the influx of Australian punters down to their grounding in Aussie rules.

"We just grow up from whatever age – five, four – punting a football," Wishnowsky added.

"If you ask us to throw it, we're useless because we didn't do it."

Jarryd Hayne and Valentine Holmes were not required to throw the ball, just run it, but neither was able to replicate the type of success they had as NRL players.

Rugby league star Hayne impressed enough to make the 49ers' roster in 2015 but lasted only half a season, while fellow Australia international Holmes returned to the NRL in November after a year on the New York Jets' practice squad.

"Even when Jarryd Hayne came over, I thought there are incredible athletes in Australia, [but] he's going to struggle, so just to do what he did was incredible," Wishnowsky said.

"Some of the athletes that are over here are incredible, so fast, so quick, cut up.

"They will eat pancakes and maple syrup every meal and they will just be cut. They are just different. I think it is a tough thing to get into."

Wishnowsky has had no such problems making the transition, though, and on Sunday he will achieve something beyond even his wildest dreams.

"I didn't even consider this," Wishnowsky admitted.

"My dream was to play in the NFL, it's almost a new dream to play in the Super Bowl."

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