football Edit

Alabama's Australian punter beginning to find his footing in second season

James Burnip watches a punt during Alabama's game against Miami at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2021.
James Burnip watches a punt during Alabama's game against Miami at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2021.

TUSCALOOSA Ala. — From not sleeping for two weeks because he was adjusting to the time change, to working on his punting skills with the Alabama club rugby team, James Burnip needed a season to adapt.

The Prokick Austrailia product played his first season of American football in 2021; a season that not only had major changes — such as playing on a rectangular field rather than the oval-shaped field used in Australian rules football — but also included moving 9,500 miles away from home.

However, when Burnip dons his No. 86 and trots out onto the field to punt, his teammates and coaches believe the learning curve from last season will help the now-redshirt sophomore.

“I think he's done really well,” Will Reichard said. “I think he's primed for a breakout year. I think he's gonna do outstanding this year. I've seen him work this offseason and its kind of hard for guys like to come over and play in the first football game only a month after they've been here. I think that was kind of hard on him, but I think he's made a lot of progress and he's gonna do really well this year.”

Burnip’s journey to the SEC was originally set in Oxford, Miss., as the 6-foot-6, 211-pounder initially committed to Ole Miss in Jan. 2021. However, like many long and arduous journeys, Burnip took a detour and signed with Alabama six months later.

From that point on, Burnip worked with Nathan Chapman for over a year working on his array of punts. It is because of this arsenal of kicks that suits him well for a big season according to Chapman.

“I think he’s going to be very solid for them,” Chapman said. “He’s got plenty of power at his disposal. He can do a range of different kicks if required. He’s got the ability to get himself out of trouble if the snap goes awry, so there’s some instinct there to be able to move and kick around the corner. He’s certainly got a powerful leg to sit in the pocket and get plenty of hang time if that’s what is required. You have someone who absolutely has the ability to flip the field.”

Alabama ranked No.124 of 130 Division I teams averaging just 39 yards per punt, the second-consecutive season where the Crimson Tide finished near the bottom in the country. Despite the less-than-stellar punting average, Burnip downed 15 punts inside the 20-yard-line and had a career-long 50-yard punt.

When asked about what makes Burnip’s punts so unique, Chapman said it isn’t his ability to place punts inside the opposing team’s 20-yard-line, it’s his accuracy to pin teams inside their own 5-yard-line along with his ability to be mobile while maintaining his accuracy.

“There’s a skill there depending on what the coaches want to use,” Chapman said. “If they want to get creative, there’s probably nothing that he can’t do. If they want to keep it simple and just use him in the pocket, no worries. But once they open up the box of tools and see what’s in there, they’ve got more at their disposal than they will have ever had.”