BERKELEY – Like the rest of us, Jamieson Sheahan's grand plans were turned upside down last year.
Sheahan had never played a down of American football when he arrived on campus in January of 2020. A product of Bendigo, Australia, Sheahan played two years of Australian Rules Football before enrolling in Pro Kick Australia - a program designed to prepare Australian athletes to punt or kick at U.S. colleges.
An early enrollee for the 2020 season, spring practice was going to be the time for Sheahan to get up to speed in learning the game.
After four practices, football – and the rest of the world – was shut down due to COVID-19.
"We thought we would have 15 practices, and then he was going to get that work in during June and July," Cal special teams coordinator Charlie Ragle said. "Then we'd get a full camp and he'd be ready to go. He got only four practices and then we shut down for six months."
By the time the Bears started a delayed training camp last October, Ragle knew there wouldn't be enough time for Sheahan to be completely game ready by the start of the season. With a more normal calendar this year, Sheahan is on his way to becoming a true college punter this season, and big things are expected.
"It's impressive how much he's come along," Cal long snapper Slater Zellers said. "He's doing a very good job with the transition."
Sheahan took the athleticism that allowed him to excel at Australian Rules Football and utilized it at Pro Kick Australia, which has produced 75 college scholarships or professional contracts in the United States. Former Cal punters Steven Coutts and David Lonie have gone through the program, and Lonie now serves as a coach on its staff.
"I hadn't got my degree yet and I wanted to look at avenues to pursue my degree," said Sheahan, who is majoring in interdisiplinary studies. "Pro Kick Australia called me, and it was just the perfect coincidence because I wanted to play professional sport at an elite level, but I also wanted a degree. So to be able to come over here and do that is pretty extraordinary."
Pro Kick Australia teaches students the techniques of American punting, and does its best to simulate the game. There were 45 students in Sheahan's class, and when they weren't punting, there were times they instead simulated rushers attempting to block the punt.
"He was a professional in the way he went about things," Pro Kick Australia Director Nathan Chapman said. "He wanted to learn. Things didn't overwhelm him in any way. It didn't take much for us to realize that he has a real talent for kicking the ball. Once we knew what Cal wanted, he fit perfectly."
While Pro Kick Australia does what it can to simulate American football, there is still a steep learning curve once a punter gets to the U.S. That's one of the reasons Cal was hoping to use last year's spring practice to help Sheahan make the adjustment.
He's thoroughly doing that now, after a full spring practice and with the first week of training camp for the 2021 season now complete.
"I was always going to have to adjust. It's a new sport for me," Sheahan said. "To be hit with a pandemic as well, certainly it made the challenge a little greater. It's been really nice to find consistency in practice.
"Punting is a very technical skill. It's like a golf swing," he added. "You need to constantly work at it, and that's very hard to do when we couldn't be in person together and we weren't practicing every day. I'm super excited because we are getting the work in day in and day out and it's really improving. It's really nice to have that consistency."
Ragle watched tape of Sheahan during the recruiting process and wasn't just impressed with his leg. Sheahan displayed his athleticism playing Australian Rules Football, making tackles and running with the ball.
"He's always talking about making plays and stuff like that," Zellers said. "I haven't seen it yet. Hopefully, he won't have to make a play. But if he gets in that situation, we trust him."
The same maturity and experience that has helped Sheahan make the transition to American football is also paying off in Cal's special teams room. At age 24, Sheahan has already emerged as a leader, looking after teammates and setting an example in the way he goes about his business.
"You come over and two months later you're in a world pandemic in a foreign country. He handled it better than I did," Ragle said. "When we were signing him, we knew what kind of kid we were getting. He's all in. He's bought into our program. Our culture is better because of him. Our specialists room is better because of him."