Even warming up is a bit peculiar for Max Duffy.
“It took a bit to figure out the clapping,” laughed Duffy, Kentucky’s first-year Australian punter, on the circular whole-team warm-ups done before each practice and games.
And don’t get the sophomore punter started on the equipment.
“Going from kicking with nothing to kicking with pads and helmets takes some getting used to,” Duffy said.
Just putting those things on his body properly was a complication when he first arrived in the spring.
“There’s always questions about what goes where in the pants and what needs to go where when it’s put on,” smiled UK special teams coach Dean Hood, who asked the Cats’ equipment managers to make sure they helped Duffy out.
The equipment gurus were happy to help, as were Duffy’s teammates, including former Cats punter Matt Panton, who also grew up playing Australian rules football much like Duffy.
Panton helped Duffy get the pads right, teaching him how to shift them ever so slightly to make them more comfortable for punting purposes.
So much about punting is balance, Duffy explained. And pads and helmets throw that off, especially when players are learning how to do it wearing gear for the first time.
“With my technique, I kind of lean my head a little bit to the left,” he said, leaning his head to the left. “And if I lean my head too much to the left, it hits my pad. So I had to get used to keeping my head a little straighter.”
Unlike Panton, who kicked at Columbia University before graduating and playing his final season at UK, Duffy came straight to the college game from playing professionally for Fremantle in the Australian Football League before being cut.
There’s no bulky equipment used there. And while there are groups there working with Aussie punters to prepare them for American football, their gear isn’t exactly straight from Nike.
“They normally get secondhand stuff off eBay and try to make it work the best that they can,” Duffy explained. “So most of us get these really big linebacker pads. It’s not ideal for punting, but it’s the equipment we’ve got.”
It took awhile, but the 6-foot-1, 194-pound sophomore seems to have gotten it down. In UK’s opener against Central Michigan, he punted four times for a 50-yard average, including placing two inside the 20-yard line.
Duffy stranded Florida inside its own 20-yard line twice in the upset at The Swamp, including his final one that meant the Gators started their final drive at their own 6-yard line.
That was another situation where his Australian rules background left him confused about what happened when teammates down the ball so close to the goal line.
“I thought it had gotten messed up,” Duffy confided. “I was like, ‘Ugh. I don’t know the rules. Is that going to go back to the 20 or not?’ So I wasn’t sure if I should be happy.”
He wasn’t used much in the Murray State game, but Duffy’s 45.7 yards per punt on his nine punts this season ranks fourth in the Southeastern Conference.
Coaches have been plenty happy with the 25-year-old punter, who is easily the oldest player on the team.
“Max is one of those guys that is very, very mature,” Coach Mark Stoops said. “He just kind of goes about his business, does it in a very professional way.”
There are plenty of adjustments — beyond the equipment — for Australian rules punters. All of them grew up kicking on playgrounds, so that’s the easy part. But like so many others before him, Duffy has had to work on getting the ball off quickly from snap to foot.
And then there’s the “total scheme” of it all, explained Hood, who has been working with Australian punters for a long time. UK has to teach them exactly where to launch the ball with each protection.
Duffy has worked hard to make sure he can execute every punt Kentucky needs him to, specifically attempting to master the booming, spiraling kicks out of the pocket.
“They do a great job over there teaching them the pocket punt, which for them is the most difficult because everything they do is on the move,” Hood said. “That’s what comes natural to them because that’s what they’ve been doing since they were little bitty.”
While some other Australian punters have been content to just pooch kick in those situations, Duffy has worked hard to get it right, his special teams coach said.
“It shows you how hard he’s willing to work,” Hood said. “He’s a tireless worker and he wants to be great.”
Duffy doesn’t mind the work, and he’s found the transition to college football in America — even the clapping part — fun.
“A small thing like punting, you can get too worked up at times and then it’s a bit of a head battle,” Duffy said. “I’m just trying to stay relaxed. I’m loving it and enjoying it over here. I’m going to keep having fun.”
He’s become a weapon already for unbeaten Kentucky, which faces No. 14 Mississippi State on Saturday at Kroger Field. The Cats punted seven times last year against the Bulldogs.
“He’s been very, very helpful for us,” Stoops said. “He’s a confident player. He’s talented, can punt the ball a lot of different ways. And he has a good feel for it for not playing much football.”
No. 14 Mississippi State at Kentucky
When: 7 p.m.