NCAAF Teams
Steve Smith, Special to ESPN.com 22d

Dane Roy, Houston's punter from Down Under, is one of a kind

College Football, Houston Cougars

If, as the Chinese proverb reminds us, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then Dane Roy has taken many, many strides to get to this point.

By almost any measure, the affable Australian is not your typical U.S. college football punter. His journey to the sprawling campus of the University of Houston is similarly unorthodox. After all, how many punters are 6-foot-7, hold a perpetually sunny disposition, collect funky pairs of socks and used to sell ice cream for a living?

Oh, and did we mention he's a 28-year-old sophomore?

Radiating a positive energy that is downright infectious, Roy is taking on his second season with the Cougars with the same laid-back attitude with which he has approached every other facet of his unique odyssey to this point.

Understand, though, that beneath the beaming smile and booming leg is a competitor fully intent on making the most of a very unlikely opportunity.

When he was growing up in the sleepy Victoria town of Bunyip -- population 2,468 -- about an hour southeast of Melbourne, having a collegiate career playing American football would have seemed about as likely for Roy as seeing an actual bunyip, a mythical swamp creature from indigenous Australian folklore. In a rite of passage repeated by so many Aussie kids, Roy played Australian rules football in the winter and cricket in the summer, with the mud and tackling making way for the quieter and gentler violence of bat and ball.

It was a peaceful, unobtrusive existence. Roy was just another kid who kept playing competitive sport well after finishing high school and moving into the world of adulthood and finding employment. Ah, yes -- the jobs.

Roy tried his hand at whatever came along. He worked checkout at a supermarket before being shifted to shelf-stacking due to his height. He worked in bars. He worked for the Australian Tax Office. He spent time as a typesetter for a company that made horse racing guides, and yes, he was even employed as a salesman at an ice cream factory.

He could always kick a ball, though, and after being told of a punting competition run by Prokick Australia, an organization that helps local players transition to collegiate football programs, Roy saw his chance to find some direction.

Ever modest, Roy says he got lucky with the matchups in the competition. But it was anything but good fortune when he won with a soaring, ballistic, 80-yard monster punt in front of nearly 100,000 spectators at halftime of the 2015 AFL Grand Final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Winning the competition gave Roy 10 sessions with Prokick, and it didn't take long for the coaches to realize they had something out of the ordinary on their hands.

Prokick Australia director Nathan Chapman, who played top-flight Australian rules football for seven years and had a brief preseason stint with the NFL's Green Bay Packers in 2004, said Roy "never looked back" after winning the competition and subsequently capturing the attention of Houston coaches.

"He's a pretty big lad and had a long kick already, so it was more about refining what he did so that he could fit into the U.S. format when kicking," Chapman said. "He didn't look to take shortcuts, and I think because he is an old bugger, he knew this was a second chance at changing his life, so he really did grasp it with both hands and worked really hard."

In his own words, Roy spent his first collegiate season "trying to get all 100 yards in one kick," but he has since learned the value of net yardage -- not to mention knowing where to punt the ball.

"That's what counts. You can kick a really big ball, but if the opposition brings it back to where you kicked it from, it's not really a good kick," Roy said.

He also enjoyed a brief moment in the highlight reels from running a fake punt to perfection.

For UH special-teams analyst Kyle Robinson, Roy's development has been both expected and a welcome sight. Robinson said that although the coaching staff thought Roy performed solidly last season, there were games in which he lacked consistency, overkicking the ball and not locating properly.

"We expected him to come back better this year, and so far, he's been pretty good," Robinson said. "He's very talented, and as his understanding of the game grows, he's just going to get better and better. You tell him something once, and it's done. He understands the opportunity that's been given him, the scholarship, so he's fired up to be here."

Through seven games this season, Roy has averaged 40.1 yards on 36 punts, and he earned American Athletic Conference special-teams player of the week honors in mid-September. (Houston plays at South Florida at 3:45 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPNU.)

After losing just five games the past two seasons, the Cougars have stuttered to a 4-3 record in 2017, though that might be considered unsurprising given the early-season chaos of Hurricane Harvey.

For anyone who knows Roy, it will come as no surprise that he was one of the first in line to help with relief efforts after the hurricane devastated the region in late August.

Having spent a day unloading pallets of bottled water at a church in northern Houston with the rest of the Cougars football squad, Roy, junior linebacker Roman Brown and former offensive lineman Colton Freeman went out and about, looking for anyone who needed help.

"We were just so happy to be able to help people," Roy said. "You know when you finish a hard day of work, and you sit down and take a big deep breath, and you know you've earned that day? Knowing that you've helped other people who really needed it and not just yourself makes you feel pretty good. We did something good, and everyone is happy, so we rewarded ourselves with a steak at the end of the night."

Despite the high-pressure stakes of college sports, Roy has ensured that the Cougars have seen the full gamut of his self-deprecating personality, with Robinson affectionately describing him as "one of the most unique student-athletes I've come across."

For example, Roy insists on listening to the Metallica Spotify channel on bus rides to games. For studying, he switches to classical. His reasoning?

"It makes me smarter, I reckon," he said. "At least, that's what someone else said. 'Listen to Beethoven and all those guys, and it'll make you smarter.' And I need all the help I can get!"

Then there's the socks. Footballers in Australia can be a superstitious bunch, and Roy is no exception, wearing the same pair of socks while traveling to each game.

However, his socks are a little different from what you'd expect to see worn with a suit: navy blue with red and white mushrooms.

"They look like they're from Super Mario," he said proudly. "I wore them all last year, and I've got them again for this season."

Having already navigated the college waters once, Roy says the biggest factor for improved performance this season comes down to finding consistency and rhythm. With the mantra of "train hard, win easy" in his head, Roy has taken to using team practices to get a good taste of what professional football life might be like.

"Some of the guys rushing off the edges, they give us really good looks in practice, so the harder you train, the easier the games," he said. "It's where you can make your mistakes and fix them, too. The coaches seem to know everything we need to be doing, so I'm going to listen to them and do what's best for the team."

Indeed, Robinson can't speak highly enough of the oldest sophomore he is likely to coach.

"All of the guys did a great job [helping with the clean-up], but he went above and beyond with what he did. I didn't even have to ask him to go help. He just did it," Robinson said. "He's a pro in every sense of the word. I help him out where I can, but he's just so easy to coach. I'll take one like him every time."

The last word, naturally, goes to Roy.

"Not in a million years did I think I'd be doing this," he said. "I like to step back from reality sometimes and just look around me and think how lucky I am to be doing this. Who would have thought a country kid from Bunyip could do this?"

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