A web of connections led Michigan State halfway across the world to its next punter.
Australia’s Jack Bouwmeester crossed the Pacific Ocean with his parents and came to East Lansing for their official visit at Michigan State two weekends ago. By the end of that weekend, this Australian Rules football player and cricket maven had committed to a full scholarship to play American football for the Spartans.
This story’s roots begin in Brisbane, Australia, where Nathan Chapman played Australian rules football for four years with the Brisbane Bears/Lions before playing with the Hawthorn team for three seasons. After he was done with them, he thought he might give American football a try and signed a contract with the Green Bay Packers. When his stint with the Packers ended, he returned home and started an organization called ProKick.
“I wanted to stay involved in the game and create a smarter process for getting young men opportunities,” Chapman said.
ProKick would take Australian rules football prospects, teach them American football punting, then match them up with coaches in the United States.
When Chapman was in camp with the Packers, his special teams coach was John Bonamego. Now the head coach at Central Michigan, Bonamego got reconnected with Chapman when he contacted the Chippewas about one of his kicking prospects, Jack Sheldon, who ended up signing with the Chippewas. The special teams coach at Central Michigan then was Shayne Graham. Graham was hired at Michigan State this year, so when Chapman had another Division I punting prospect, he sent his information to Graham.
That prospect was Bouwmeester, who happened upon some information about ProKick several years ago and began traveling three hours to training.
“He saw something about us and someone mentioned to him that it might be worth having a kick, having an assessment,” Chapman said. “So he got off his backside and did that and we recognized right away that he was going to be talented, had a nice kick from the get-go and he just needed to be refined and trained, but he had the power and the skill set to where we could train him up and place him at a big institution.”
Michigan State was chosen as a fit for Bouwmeester because the area in Australia where he is from, Chapman felt, was similar to East Lansing.
“It is a little bit different with recruiting a player from our program in the sense of, we’re not moving from Iowa or Miami to Michigan or Detroit or New York – we’re moving from Australia,” Chapman explained. “So Jack’s from the country himself, so he’s from a similar space. So we wanted to present it to Jack because we knew that it would be just like home – colder, but a lot like home.”
The new year will bring many new experiences for Jack Bouwmeester: a new sport, a new school, a new country, but Chapman is confident he can handle it and that it will be to Michigan State’s benefit.
“Jack is a competitor,” he said. “He is accurate, can kick a spiral, rollout kick, really is an all-around athlete and punter. I know it’s not a big game in the U.S., but he’s very handy at cricket and could have followed another sport. He has to travel a couple hours to every training session, so he’s got the dedication but he’s also a country boy, a bloke’s bloke and likes to have a bit of fun, but has the skills and ability to make a difference on special teams.”
The Spartans now have 19 commitments in the 2019 recruiting class.
Spartans set to host targets
Among the visitors for Michigan State’s Saturday home game against Ohio State will be Lithonia (Ga.) Stephenson running back Deondre Jackson. The 6-foot, 195-pound junior was only just offered by the Spartans this week, but quickly set a visit for campus. Auburn, Alabama, Florida and others have also offered.
The Spartans will also get Belleville (Ill.) West senior defensive end Keith Randolph on campus for the first time. He was offered by the Spartans in September, but scheduling conflicts kept him from making it to East Lansing until now. This will be an unofficial visit. Michigan State is one of the contenders in a recruitment that is going to get serious the next few months as Randolph’s season is now complete. A 6-5, 225-pound prospect, Randolph’s first season playing football was as a junior, but he now has offers from Illinois, Iowa, Purdue, Minnesota and more in addition to Michigan State.
Allen Trieu covers Midwest football recruiting for 247Sports. He has been featured on the Big Ten Network on its annual Signing Day Show. His Michigan and Michigan State recruiting columns appear weekly at detroitnews.com.