Straw adjusting well following unique journey to West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Like any true freshman in college, Oliver Shaw went through a period of transition upon his arrival in Morgantown.

That began in January when Shaw, a native of Melbourne, Australia, enrolled early at West Virginia to get a head start as the Mountaineers’ punter.

“It was different,” Shaw said. “I hadn’t seen snow until I first got here, so that was a big adjustment dealing with cold weather. But it’s pretty similar to home in terms of the community feel. Being in a college town is pretty cool. I’ve never really experienced that in my life.”

Considering his first love was basketball, it’s safe to say Shaw didn’t envision himself punting anywhere, nonetheless at West Virginia, in college.

That was before Shaw began training at Prokick Australia, a service started in 2007 whose website describes its objective  to “train, guide and transition Australian athletes to perform at the College/NFL level.”

“They pretty much provide Australian punters to American universities and train them up, get them to do the American-style spirals and things like that,” Shaw said. “I worked with them for a year-and-a-half to two years throughout covid and high school. Working with them eventually got me the opportunity to come here. As soon as I heard about it and had a phone call with the coaches, I was pretty much all in and set on coming here.”

Oliver Straw

Shaw was part of a six-month foreign-exchange program that brought him to Shore Regional High School (N.J.), which gave him a taste of American football. However, a rule prohibiting international transfers from playing on the varsity squad meant Shaw was a member of the junior varsity team, and as he put it, “they tend not to want to punt the ball,” at that level.

Instead, the 6-foot-2, 214-pound Shaw was primarily used as a tight end and defensive end, though he became aware his path to the next level wasn’t at either position.

“I always wanted to come to the states for college in some way for sports and I didn’t know if it was going to be basketball or football,” Shaw said. “One of my dad’s friends used to work for the Buffalo Bills closely and he had seen me punt a few times and said, ‘You might want to give this a go if you’re interested and if not, try basketball.’ I developed my kicking more and more and as I decided football was going to be my way to get here, Prokick presented itself to me.”

Straw is far from the only Power 5 Conference specialist to come from Prokick, whose website says 190 athletes have received full scholarships at American colleges through the program, including six Ray Guy Award winners.

West Virginia’s opponent Saturday is No. 7 TCU, whose punter Jordy Sandy also came from Prokick. So, too, did Oklahoma State’s Tom Hutton, who leads the Big 12 with an average of 45.2 yards per punt.

“We train with guys before they come over, so a lot of the guys in the Big 12 actually trained before my time and they’re all finishing up unfortunately,” Straw said. “We consider ourselves a brotherhood at Prokick, so we always try to text each other, see how each other is doing at each school, offer tips that we may have from game to game on how to improve. This weekend, I’ll see Jordy and say hello to him, but you tend to stick with the guys you trained with at Prokick.”

Straw is coming off a performance in which he earned Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors by averaging 46.6 yards on five punts in a loss at Texas Tech. It included the longest punt — 63 yards — of his career, and allowed Straw to up his season average to 41.6 yards on 23 punts.

“It’s an honor, but I always want to see the team do better,” Straw said, “so I would prefer to not have to punt if that’s what’s best for the team.”

Yet it was a bright spot in an otherwise poor showing from the Mountaineers and allowed Shaw to continue displaying his understanding of American football.

“There’s a mountain of differences, but the pads and helmet have been an adjustment from the start,” he said. “At Prokick, they train us up, so we had helmets and pads, but nothing compared to what we have here. It’s different in terms of how the game is played. We play on an oval back home, and this is on a rectangular field. It’s different, but it’s been a good adjustment and I love the sport.”

Shaw, who has citizenship in Australia from his father, the United Kingdom from his mother and the United States as a result of being born in Hoboken, N.J., is capable of punting with either foot in a variety of styles, though he’s yet to display that through seven games as a Mountaineer.

Instead, his focus has been on mastering more of the generic punting style, though other options still exist.

“Being able to kick with both feet and being able to kick different styles is an advantage, because you have the option, but whatever is going to produce the best results on a given day,” he said. “If they need me to roll out left in a certain situation, I’ll roll out left. If they need me to kick a spiral, I’ll kick a spiral. It depends situationally what’s going on and that’s an advantage of being able to do all those different things. It can change play to play, game to game on what I do.”

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