UW has never gone as far to recruit a player as it did for punter Joel Whitford. Here’s why.

Bob Gregory believes Whitford can be “a real weapon” for the Huskies this season, which is why UW’s linebackers coach and special-teams coordinator flew to Australia to recruit him — and more like him.

Bob Gregory has been a college football coach for 30 years and has recruited hundreds of players from all over the country in his career. But never has Gregory gone to such lengths as he did to get Joel Whitford to come to the University of Washington.

Gregory believes Whitford can be “a real weapon” for the Huskies this season, which is why UW’s linebackers coach and special-teams coordinator flew to Australia to recruit him — and more like him.

Most recruiting trips keep Gregory on the West Coast. The flight to Australia was a 16-hour trip each way, and he lost an entire day going there while crossing the international date line. Few coaches make such an effort for one recruit.

But Gregory did. He did it … for a punter.

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And he’s hardly the only one in college football doing so.

One of  Australia’s greatest exports to the United States has become punters, and the 24-year-old Whitford is one of the newest to arrive in major-college football.

Utah popularized the use of Australian punters in recent years — Tom Hackett and his successor, Mitch Wishnowsky, combined to win the last three Ray Guy awards, given to the nation’s top punter — and now half of the teams in the Pac-12 have an Australian punter on their roster.

“It’s just happening more and more,” Gregory said. “Those guys are really hard to defend.”

UW coach Chris Petersen has long preferred rugby-style punting, in which the punter typically rolls out to the right, buying time for his coverage team to get down field, and then kicking the ball low, intending for an end-over-end bounce that can make life difficult — if not miserable — for the opposing punt returner.

Dante Pettis, UW’s all-time leading punt returner, said fielding Whitford’s punts in practice hasn’t been much fun, but he says it should help him against other rugby-style punters during the season.

“Those kicks, there’s something different about them, the way they spin, the way they carry,” Pettis said. “It’s hard to get a read on it, and so having someone that kicks that style out here helps tremendously.”

UW senior Tristan Vizcaino, a California native, was UW’s primary punter…

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