Australian punter Mitch Wishnowsky’s journey to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium for the Super Bowl has been long, winding and full of obstacles.
The 27-year-old from Perth could argue no player in Sunday’s (10.30am Monday AEDT) clash between his San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs or the previous 53 Super Bowls has travelled so far.
If you Google ‘What city is farthest from Miami?’ Perth, at 18,316 kilometres, is No.1 followed by Bandung, Indonesia.
“It all started about seven years ago,” said Wishnowsky, looking back at how chance meetings, random phone calls, a short video and a willingness to make a life gamble landed him at the 49ers.
Wishnowsky quit Perth’s Lumen Christi College at 16, became an apprentice glazier and hoped for a professional soccer or AFL career but injuries took their toll on his 188cm tall body.
In 2013, he signed up to a recreational American flag football league.
It’s where Craig Wilson, one of American football’s leading figures in Australia, saw him punt a football.
Word and a small video got back to John Smith and Nathan Chapman, who run the phenomenally-successful Melbourne-based Prokick Australia punting academy.
The video showed Wishnowsky was raw but loaded with NFL punting potential.
“It was like watching a horse trying to kick its way out of a horse box,” Smith told AAP. “The power was immense.”
Wishnowsky was fishing and getting over dengue fever from a Bali trip when Smith called and invited him to join them in Melbourne.
“He had a pretty aggressive sales pitch,” Wishnowsky said.
“He told me then he was going to change my life.”
Wishnowsky, despite working at a pub to eat and pay off a mortgage in Perth, impressed at Prokick in Melbourne.
“It was pretty apparent a few weeks in we had something really special,” Smith said.
It still was not an easy path to an elite US university.
Wishnowsky’s early high school exit meant he had to enrol in California’s Santa Barbara City junior college for two years to build up his grades.
He punted at the college for a year and sat out the second to ensure he was academically qualified to accept a scholarship at the University of Utah.
Wishnowsky was an instant success in Utah.
He won the Ray Guy Award for college football’s best punter in 2016 and last year, after impressing scouts at the NFL combine with his punting and 40-yard dash time of 4.63 seconds, was snapped up by the 49ers in the fourth round of the draft.
The time was the fastest by a punter since 2003 and quicker than elite wide receiver Jarvis Landry, cornerback Josh Norman and running back Mark Ingram.
The Chiefs, led by 2019 NFL MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, are the slight Super Bowl favourites.
The match pits the Chiefs’ dynamic offence against the 49ers’ crushing defence, featuring newly-minted NFL Rookie of the Year winner Nick Bosa.
The 193cm tall, 121kg Bosa is a human wrecking ball whose goal will be to catch and batter the elusive Mahomes.
If the 49ers win, Wishnowsky will become the second Australian to win a Super Bowl ring after Queensland defensive tackle Jesse Williams (Seattle Seahawks’ 2014).