Chapel HILL The college debut for Tar Heels punter Tom Sheldon was different than most. First of all, he’s a 27-year-old freshman. Second of all, he was diving head-first into college football after coming from Australia. We’ve previously profiled Sheldon in these pages, but wanted to follow up with him after his first collegiate football experience against Georgia on Saturday.North State Journal: What was your first game in America on Saturday like for you?Tom Sheldon: It was crazy. It’s funny how even the simple things, just catching a snap when you’re in front of 75,000, becomes a challenge because it doesn’t seem as easy as it does at practice. I was just happy to catch it, kick it away and get it on its way. That was a great feeling, coming off the field.How would you describe your first month here, being around American football, the team and the university?It’s been a steep learning curve. I remember the first day of training camp, I felt like sort of a headless chicken running around, getting in the way, not knowing what was going on at all. I feel like I’ve learned a heap in that time. It feels like yesterday that I got here, it’s all gone that quickly. Now the first game’s gone and we’re into it now. It’s good to be underway. It’s too bad we didn’t get a win this first game.How does your role as a punter here differ from what you did when you were playing Australian Rules Football?There’s more pressure here, because you’ve only got a few opportunities to do your job or not do your job. Back home there’s a lot of running around. Some guys would run 10 miles in a game and I’m probably running 10 yards in a game. So that’s been a nice changeup.How did you end up at UNC?We’ve got a kicking academy in Australia called Pro Kick, run by Nathan Chapman and John Smith and they’ve got about 30 guys currently playing college as punters. They’ve had quite a bit of success, so American schools are going to them looking for a punter. North Carolina called them up and said ‘have you got someone’ and before I knew it I was on the plane coming over here.What did you know about North Carolina before you got here?I knew Michael Jordan was here. I knew they had a good season last year. But apart from that I couldn’t tell you whereabouts in America it was or anything else. I had to jump on Google and learn a thing about it pretty quickly.How familiar are you with Alex Kinal, who was at Wake Forest the past four years, or any of the other Aussie punters that have been successful here in America?I knew of Alex and Tommy Hackett (the two-time Ray Guy Award winner from Utah) and all those guys at the different schools.Is your goal to parlay your time in college into playing in the NFL?I suppose it is, but I haven’t thought about it a whole lot. But I suppose that is the dream. Right now I’m just focused on getting through the season and trying to do a good job.How are you adjusting to your classes and campus life?I was at university back in Australia last year. It’s very different, the culture of the university here. Over there you go to university, you study and that’s about it. Here you’re really immersed in the whole lifestyle. It’s very enjoyable.Have you learned what’s going on in the game yet?To a certain extent. We have cable and ESPN and a lot of NFL games and college games on. Probably the last three of four years I gained an interest in the sport and learned the basic rules. It’s still a heap that I don’t know. A big New England Patriots fan, I am. It’s gaining a lot of popularity over there.What’s your biggest challenge to adapting to the American game?Sort of everything like kicking it directionally, getting the hang time, getting it off in time and then actually remembering to run down and cover as well. Just getting all that to come naturally so you’re not so robotic about it.Most of your kicks against Georgia were end-over-end. Is that your natural kicking style?The spiral comes pretty naturally, too. But the end-over-end Australian punt is the one I’ve been doing since I could walk. It just comes a bit easier.Is hang time something you’re working on?On Aussie punts, the spirals are a lot easier to get your hang time on. You sort of don’t really have to concentrate on hang time when you’re kicking spirals. With the Aussie punts, you sort of have to try to just force it up there a little bit just to make sure you get the required hang time so the guys can cover it. That’s something we keep working on and hopeful we can really get cranking in it.So you have both spiral and an end-over-end kicks?Yeah. I’d like to bring out the spiral soon on a more consistent basis. The punt after the safety Saturday night, I got ahold of that okay. That was a spiral. Hopefully I’ll bring it out a little more and get some big ones going.How much different is the American ball compared to the one you’re used to kicking back home?Their ball is a bit more rounded on the ends and is a bit more forgiving when you kick it on the end. It’s probably a little bit bigger. But apart from that it’s pretty similar. This one’s just a bit more pointy.Have you gotten used to it yet?I think so. It’s funny, I think if I went back to kicking our ball it would probably feel weird at the moment.Since you’re used to running with the ball in Aussie Rules, would you like to try a fake at some point?I’m not overly fast, so I don’t think they’d be too keen on doing that.You’re 27 years old. What’s it like being so much older than your teammates?It’s different. Coming over, it wasn’t something that I actually thought about. When you get over here you sort of notice it, but all these guys are very mature, I’m so new and have so much to learn and wet behind the years that I feel like the youngest.When you talk to your friends back home, how do you describe all this?I say it’s a beautiful part of the world. It’s hard to imagine, coming from Australia what it is like. Just the intensity of practice and the intensity on game day, they all saw it on TV and can appreciate a little bit. But just what goes on behind the scenes, it’s probably hard to really explain.
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