Panton, a former Australian Rules Football player, announced last week that he’ll be playing for Kentucky as a graduate transfer. Panton played two seasons at Columbia where he was also a member of the heavyweight rowing program.
Coaching an Australian punter will put Hood, hired by Kentucky on Feb. 15, back in his comfort zone. He recently coached two Australian punters at Eastern Kentucky: Jordan Berry, who punts for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Keith Wrzuszczak, a senior at Eastern Kentucky.
He designed his punt strategies at Eastern Kentucky around Berry and Wrzuszczak’s rugby-style skill sets.
“Those guys actually strive on movement and something coming at them that they can see opposed to an American punter — something coming at them that they can see is the worst thing in the world,” Hood said. “They don’t want that, whereas an Australian guy, ‘Yeah, you keep coming, you keep coming, I’ve got room, I’ve got room, OK, I’m gonna punt it.’ ”
Panton’s style will contrast that of Kentucky starter Grant McKinniss, who served as the starting punter last season as a freshman. McKinniss averaged 39.2 yards per punt on 58 punts in 2016. It was the worst average in the SEC among the 12 punters who attempted at least 3.6 punts per game.
Hood said McKinniss made “great strides” this spring, particularly in the scrimmage last Saturday. Hood said McKinniss “boomed” a couple punts and had another downed inside the 20-yard line.
And while Panton’s impending arrival doesn’t mean he’ll take the starting job, it gives coach Mark Stoops and Hood options.
“I think anytime you have competition it helps,” Hood said. “It’s just human nature to relax when I have nobody else that can go in there and do it. It doesn’t matter what the position is.”
It’s the same message Stoops shared at the start of spring practice when questioned about McKinniss’ struggles.
“We’ll look at helping him and continuing to help with his progress, and we’ll also look at bringing in some guys to help push him along that way, have some other options,” Stoops said in early March.
Bringing in Panton materialized the thought. Panton is from Shoreham, a seaside city near Melbourne. He averaged 40.5 yards per kick while sharing punting duties at Columbia last season. He had 17 of his 42 kicks downed inside the 20-yard line.
Hood likened an Australian punter to a dual-threat quarterback.
“If all you do is drop back pass, they can do a lot of things and get a lot of pressure on you,” Hood said. “But if you as a quarterback sprint out and throw, and you’ve got screens and you’ve got different things you can do besides just drop back pass, now all of a sudden that rush has gotta go, ‘Wooh, they can do some things.’ And that’s what an Australian punter does for you, really puts pressure on the defense.”