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Aussie punter paying dividends for Buckeyes

Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston has been showing his coaches video of his friend and fellow Australian, Eastern Kentucky’s Jordan Berry, pulling off one of the top plays in college football last weekend — gaining a first down with a fake punt by booting the ball to a receiver.

On fourth-and-4 against Morehead State, Berry’s rugby-style kick went directly to a teammate near the sideline, who picked up 11 yards against the flabbergasted punt-return team.

The punt-pass is legal, as long as the “completion” is made behind the line of scrimmage. And Johnston said he’s accurate enough with his foot to hit receivers in stride.

“We’ve always mucked around with that when I was kicking back home before I came here,” he said.

He wanted his coaches to be aware of a trick that could come in handy this season, but they may need a little more convincing. Asked if it’s something the Buckeyes might try, he said: “I’m not sure. It’s pretty ‘game’ to use it. But it worked well.”

The OSU coaches probably would be content if Johnston just keeps doing what he did in a 31-24 win over Wisconsin last week.

He was named the Big Ten special teams player of the week after pinning Wisconsin inside its 20-yard line on each of his six punts, including five inside the 10.

He saved his best for last, booming a 55-yarder that forced the Badgers to start at their own 10 with 1:29 to go.

“His last punt was a 4.56 hang time, and that’s what we expect all the time,” Meyer said. “And (gunner) Devin Smith was magical. They doubled him, and he went down and stopped them.”

Meyer hasn’t always been happy with Johnston’s hang time, but his end-over-end boots have been an asset since they usually die close to where they hit the turf if they’re not fielded on a fly.

He’s only averaging a modest 40.5 yards this season, but the Buckeyes have given up just three return yards in 18 boots, making their net-punt average 40.3 yards, the second-best mark in the Big Ten.

“I’ve graded him about a C-minus,” Meyer said. “His average hang time was just under four seconds (going into the Wisconsin game), which is completely unacceptable up to this point. But I’m seeing a little more pep in his step.

“The players love him, so I’m hoping we see a great deal of confidence that he can get the job done. He’s a very valuable weapon for us. He’s a freshman, too, so we’ve got him for a long time.”

Johnston, like Berry, was part of the Prokick Australia program, which grooms punters for college football in America. More than a dozen currently are playing in the U.S., and Johnston was a catch for the Buckeyes, who desperate needed a punter after losing one they were counting on from the 2013 recruiting class.

Johnston has a thick Australian accent, which makes him hard to understand at times. He and his teammates trade good-natured barbs over his Crocodile Dundee dialect, but it tends to be a hassle when Johnston deals with the public.

“The worst part is going to restaurants to order food,” he said. “The waiter will ask me (to say it again) four or five times. You just get your friend to tell her.”

Dayton connection: Mike Conley Jr., a former Buckeye who stars for the Memphis Grizzlies, has made a $500,000 donation to the men’s basketball program, and the OSU weight room will be named after him.

He was recognized at halftime of the Wisconsin game and was joined by his fiancée, Fairmont High School graduate Mary Peluso, the daughter of Daytonians Lou and Beth Peluso.

“I thought it was necessary for all the things they’ve done for me,” said Conley, who was the starting point guard as a freshman on the Buckeyes’ 2007 national runner-up team. “I’m just trying to pay it forward so all the student-athletes in the future, hopefully, can benefit from it like I’ve benefitted from the people before me.”

Conley and Peluso met as freshmen at Ohio State and plan to be married July 5, 2014 in Columbus.

Asked if she thinks her fiancé is going to end up being a better husband or basketball player, Peluso smiled and said, “I think husband. Gotta go with husband.”

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