At 30, Aussie kicker philosophical about return to football after long layoff
The average person in the press box could barely lace a cleat, never mind boot the ball down the field.
But Tom Hackett isn’t your average sports reporter.
Hackett, an Australian living in Salt Lake City, Utah covering MLS soccer and golf, is now the one answering questions as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers drafted the punter sixth overall in last week’s CFL Global Draft.
Hackett, who turned 30 on Monday, was twice named the NCAA’s top punter as he won the prestigious Ray Guy Award in 2014 and 2015 during his time at the University of Utah. He would sign with the NFL’s New York Jets as an undrafted free agent but was quickly waived and ended up in sports media for a few years.
“I got done with the Jets, had a couple of workouts with the NFL and I was just happy to… mentally I was kind of ruined a bit. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I was just happy to go get a day job,” said Hackett after Day 1 of Bombers rookie camp on Wednesday.
“I had to do an internship to get my degree when the Jets cut me, so I said I’ll get it in radio. And then immediately following that I got a regular show in Salt Lake City, so I said, you know what, let’s just see where this goes.”
“I put a lot of pressure on myself and I was just happy to go get a day job.”
— Tom Hackett
It was an afternoon sports radio show for ESPN 700AM, a role he had for a year, before going on to host a golf television show on Sunday nights for KSL Sports and report on the town’s MLS club, Real Salt Lake. Despite the success away from the gridiron, Hackett didn’t want to look back one day and have regrets that he didn’t give pro ball another kick at the can. Fortunately for him, his boss at KSL Sports fully supported his decision.
“Until the hamstring falls off the bone, we’re going to give it everything we’ve got. I’m here. I’m happy. I told Bou, the special-teams (coach), ‘You know you might have to give me a couple of weeks.’ I’ll spend a good chunk of time in the ice bath after this session,” said Hackett.
“Physically, that’s one thing. But to me, mentally is where I win, or at least that’s why I won in college. So, it’ll take me a minute to get back to that as well. If they’ve got patience with me, I think everything will work out pretty good. But, yeah, you take five years off… Look, it’s riding a bike at the end of the day, but it does take a bit of time to blow the dust off and try and get back to where you once were.”
With fellow Ray Guy trophy winners in the NFL in Matt Araiza (Buffalo Bills) Pressley Harvin III (Pittsburgh Steelers), Braden Mann (New York Jets), Michael Dickson (Seattle Seahawks), and Mitch Wishnowsky (San Francisco 49ers), Hackett — who was named to the Pac 12 Conference’s All-Century team — deserves some patience. But his game differs from the names on that list.
“Look, I’m 5-11 and 186 pounds at the minute. I played at Utah at 5-11 and about 200 and I averaged numbers that a man of my stature shouldn’t be able to average.”
— Tom Hackett
“Look, I’m 5-11 and 186 pounds at the minute. I played at Utah at 5-11 and about 200 and I averaged numbers that a man of my stature shouldn’t be able to average,” Hackett said.
“But the only way I was able to do it is because I was able to get the ball on the ground rolling and nobody wanted a piece of it. I’m not about the big booming hang times.”
That style works for head coach Mike O’Shea, who told reporters Wednesday Hackett’s long layoff isn’t a concern. With Canadian punter Marc Liegghio registering below average numbers as a rookie last season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see O’Shea give Hackett a chance.
“We’ve watched him extensively. Once he gets back into the kind of shape he wants to be in, and that’s going to take a little bit of time. We know that and he knows that,” O’Shea said.
“And he’s not young. It’s not like he’s just going to go out gangbusters and shoot it all in one practice. There’s a plan here. I do think there’s some creativity that can be had with a guy who’s smart with the football and understands placements.”
Hackett hopes he can knock the rust off and make the most of the opportunity, but with his wife Kate, two-year-old son Freddy, and promising career back home, he feels like he’s playing with house money.
“If I can get an NFL tryout or just even turn some heads, that’s all I’m here to do. And like I said, I can’t do this in 10 years time. It’s now or never. So, it’s exciting,” said Hackett.
“And it’s nothing like the last experience. In New York when I was with the Jets, it was like I wanted to make it so bad. And as much as I want to make this team, if I don’t make it, it’s OK, too. I’ve got family. It’s OK. It’s all good.”
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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