BLOOMINGTON — As Indiana senior kicker Logan Justus booted each of his four field goals Saturday against Ball State, no one had more jitters for him than one of his best friends on the team.
Senior punter Haydon Whitehead was the holder for Justus on all four kicks.
“If I mess up on a punt, it’s on me. It starts and stops with me,” Whitehead said. “But if I mess up the hold, it’s usually the kicker that still cops the blame for things going wrong.
“So, yeah, I was most nervous for that, but, yeah, obviously really happy that it all went well. He had a career day, so I was stoked to be a part of that.”
Justus and Whitehead share a bond that goes beyond football. Both room together on the road. Because Whitehead is from Melbourne, Australia, it’s hard for him to get home on holidays, so he’s often been invited by the Justus family for holiday meals.
“They do a pretty good Thanksgiving spread,” Whitehead said. “That was definitely one of my favorites. Dawn, Logan’s mom, usually puts on a pretty good feed.”
The trust between friends was apparent when the Big Ten Network showed up for its football caravan in early August. Looking to do something a little quirky on film, Whitehead agreed to use his own nose as a tee while Justus kicked field goals. Justus made the kicks, and Whitehead’s nose remained in one piece.
“I know how accurate Logan is, so I had my full trust in him,” Whitehead said. “I knew nothing was going to go wrong.”
Whitehead himself enjoyed a strong opener against Ball State, averaging 51.7 yards on three punts, including two downed inside the 20-yard line. He booted a career-long 63-yard punt in the third quarter, which helped flip field position.
“I really felt like that Haydon was going to have a really good season after the way, how hard he’s worked,” IU football coach Tom Allen said. “He’s always been a tremendous worker, but everything just seemed to intensify this whole offseason, and he’s punted the ball extremely well during the spring, summer and then fall camp.”
Whitehead credited his improved distance in part to offseason strength and conditioning work with head strength coach David Ballou. He also said he feels more comfortable punting out of the pocket. A former Australian Rules Football player, Whitehead was at first accustomed to punting on the run.
“The last couple of years I was still a little bit fresh with spiral punting, not that I didn’t think I could do it in a game, just that it was always in the back of my mind, what if this didn’t work out?” Whitehead said. “Whereas now this is the season I feel like no matter what the scheme is, what the kick is, we should most of the time be able to execute it.”
Whitehead is among the growing list of college and NFL punters who have come from Australia and made the transition from Aussie Rules Football to the American game. He said the first Australian punter he looked up to was Cameron Johnson, who punted in the Big Ten at Ohio State before going to the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles. Mitch Wishnowsky, another punter Whitehead trained with at Prokick Australia, is another close friend. Wishnowsky averaged 45.7 yards per punt in three seasons at Utah before being drafted in the fourth round by the San Francisco 49ers last April.
“He’s a great guy, and we got along really well, and obviously he can punt the ball,” Whitehead said. “So, yeah, those are the two guys I obviously like to follow and keep up with.”
Whitehead is hoping to follow their footsteps and become the next Australian punter to reach the NFL. But, for now, he’s focused on contributing to IU’s strong special teams play. The Hoosiers play their home opener Saturday against Eastern Illinois.
“We have a group that really likes to put their head down and work hard and just continue to get better every day, especially under (special teams) Coach (William) Inge,” Whitehead said. “I’m looking forward to what we can achieve the rest of the season.”
BASKETBALL EXHIBITION SET
Indiana announced Wednesday it will face Div. II Gannon University in its lone public exhibition men’s basketball game on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. at Simon Sjkodt Assembly Hall.
Gannon University, a Catholic School based in Erie, Pa., went 11-18 last season and 9-12 in the Pennsylvania Athletic Conference.