The Hamilton Tiger-Cats traded up in the Canadian Football League’s global draft on Tuesday to pick Bailey Flint second overall for his punting prowess.
If the Melbourne, Australia native shows up at the Tabbies’ training camp later this month — he’s going to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ mini-camp first — he’ll also bring experience as a cornerback, offensive tackle, defensive end, thespian and recording artist with him.
He’s an interesting cat, well beyond being the first of seven Australian punters chosen in the three-round draft. The six-foot-four, 210-pounder spent a year in Moscow, Russia studying acting, has released a five-song EP titled The Heartbreak Club, and in 2021 wrapped up five years as a member of the University of Toledo Rockets. And his first football experience, playing nine-on-nine American ball at home, came in 2015. He migrated to 11-on-11 and then got a chance to play a year of high school ball at Layton Christian Academy in Utah.
“I played right tackle and D end and I was 260 pounds. I was a big chubby kid,” he told reporters during a post-draft Zoom call. “And then I lost all that weight, got all done with that. And I actually kind of gave up on playing football because I didn’t think I was going to be able to go to college. And then through Prokick Australia, they re-lit that fire under my feet and gave me that opportunity to go to Toledo.”
Prokick Australia is a specialized football factory, with a stated mission to “train, guide and transition Australian athletes to perform at the college/NFL level.”
There were about 50 Aussies at Division 1 schools in 2021 and many have Prokick ties, and they’re good. Six of the past nine Ray Guy Awards, won annually by the NCAA’s best punter, went to Australians. That list includes 2014 and ’15 winner Tom Hackett, who went sixth overall in the global draft to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
CFL chief football operations officer Greg Dick said the proliferation of Australian punters in North America has much to do with their ability to kick directionally, something they often pick up while playing Aussie Rules football.
“Playing college football over here in the states kind of worked out. Your direction is everything,” said Flint. “You put the ball up the middle, there are guys that are fast enough to run it back on you. So, once you kind of understand that, and then our skill set of being able to place the ball where we want to put it is something that has helped get a lot of Australian guys over to the states for college and there are a lot of Australians in the CFL now. They’re just proving that it’s working.”
The Ticats already had an Australian punter on the roster, as Joel Whitford saw action in 12 games in 2021 and averaged 45 yards per punt. The Tabbies also drafted another Australian, Blake Hayes, with the first pick of the second round on Tuesday. All three spent time with Prokick Australia.
Ideally, Flint won’t join his mates in Hamilton.
“Playing professional football is what I want to do,” he said. “Where I play professional football is out of my hands sometimes. Situationally, certain things can kind of go your way or not. That’s why I made sure enough to let anyone who spoke to me in the CFL that I am 100 per cent down to come and play there should I not have an opportunity with the NFL. I’m going to go to the Pittsburgh Steelers mini-camp, going to compete, and should I not end up signing a free agent deal after that camp or be offered another deal with an NFL team, I’ll be heading up to Hamilton.”
If he has to fall back to that position, he will do so knowing the Ticats swapped picks and players with Edmonton to get the second selection.
“I would say that it’s a really cool feeling, obviously to see someone do something like that, a professional organization to make a move like that and it be me, goes to show that I’m wanted and I think that is a really, really inspiring and cool thing. It’s going to help me with making that decision after the Steelers camp, now that I know that I’m going somewhere that I’m really wanted, should nothing come to fruition with the NFL.”
This was the third truly global draft held by the CFL, which also conducted a Mexico-only event in January 2019. Players from 12 countries were chosen and Australia led with eight, while there were three each from France and Brazil, two from Latvia, Mexico, Germany and Great Britain, and one from Belgium, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Sweden and Switzerland.