The Hawaii football team’s most reliable pass-catcher grew up Down Under, did not play the American version of the sport until 16 months ago, and spends his free time bouncing a ball.
But when it comes to catching long snaps, long-snapper Luke Ingram said of punter Alex Dunnachie, "we’ve never had a problem with him. He catches everything."
Well, there was that one bobble three weeks ago against Utah State.
"And that was in the driving rain," said Chris Tormey, who coordinates UH’s special teams.
It was Dunnachie’s only drop in 81 snaps during his 23-game UH career, which also is the length of his time playing American football.
"It was purely a lapse in concentration," Dunnachie said of the drop. "It’s definitely not going to happen again. I was pretty hard on myself after that one. … I managed to pick up the ball, and I didn’t really care where I was going. I saw a pair of legs and kicked around them. I think we managed to squib a 30-yard punt with no return."
Minimizing punt-return yardage is the goal, Tormey said, and Dunnachie has been efficient in that area the past three games. Of his 17 punts against Boise State, Idaho and Utah State, four were returned for 11 yards.
"The first thing, obviously, is to catch the ball, and he’s been very good at that," Tormey said. "He’s always had leg strength. He’s starting to hone his craft. He’s more comfortable with his technique."
Dunnachie said he has worked on his receiving skills since he was 7 in Victoria, Australia. Like most kids, he often would play catch. In his version, he said, "We would move the (Australia Rules) ball back and forth by kicking it and catching it. I grew up doing this."
The Australian football is between the size of an American football and a rugby ball.
Ingram said it is an adjustment to catch a snap because the ball moves upward instead of the descending arc of a quarterback’s pass.
"Alex is a big target," Ingram said of Dunnachie, who is listed at 6 feet 6 but is about 3 inches shorter. "That helps out a lot. We’re really fortunate to have a punter like that."
After hearing that Dallas Cowboys punter Mat McBriar, a former Warrior, used to practice the drop — releasing the ball slightly in front where it is kicked — by bouncing a football, Dunnachie adopted that training technique.
"It’s so vital to get that muscle memory," said Dunnachie, who practices his drops while walking the sideline during practices. "I can do (the drop) with my eyes closed. I do it watching TV. I do it sitting around the house. I bet I could do it in my sleep. I normally have a football wherever I go. It’s all a matter of repetition."
While Dunnachie has the power — 12 of his 39 punts have exceeded 50 yards — he often outkicked the coverage early in the season. Dunnachie finally is consistent in placing punts between the hashmarks and sideline, where Warriors can trap the punt returner.
"The returners are pretty specialized guys," Dunnachie said. "If he’s back there, his team trusts him to do something with it, and he generally can. We’re going to do our best to move him. Direction is a huge part of it. If we can pin him on the boundary, our coverage is right on top of him, and he’ll have nowhere to go."
Dunnachie’s goal is a punt that travels at least 45 yards with a minimum hangtime of 4.5 seconds. He has hit that mark consistently the past three games, and achieved a 5.2-second punt against Boise State.
"He’s been playing very well," Tormey said. "He’s really helped us."