Sept. 9, 2004
By JANIE McCAULEY
AP Sports Writer
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - David Lonie had never considered kicking a football.
He preferred the non-traditional daredevil athletic pursuits, spending his time surfing, spear fishing, water skiing, snowboarding and riding horses. He traveled the world doing them.
Not until he came from his native Australia to coach at a summer sports camp in the United States in 1999 did playing football became an option.
Now, he's the popular new punter for No. 12 California.
It was at the camp that he met a punter headed to Drake on scholarship.
"I was out-kicking him," Lonie said with a smile this week as the Golden Bears prepared for their home opener Saturday against New Mexico State.
The camp director noticed, and suggested Lonie pursue it further by going to Cincinnati to work out with his friend Doug Pelfrey, then with the Bengals.
It didn't take much convincing. We're talking about somebody who's seemingly up for anything.
Lonie became hooked. It certainly helped that he's 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds - almost massive proportions when it comes to punters.
With his California good looks and his speech peppered with trademark Aussie phrases such as "No worries," Lonie fits in perfectly in the zany Cal community.
Back home, he played soccer, water polo and competed in track and field. He modeled for a golf magazine, and worked all sorts of odd jobs to make money to fund his trips - construction, security and selling skis. He's been to about a dozen countries, going solo and making friends along the way.
It hasn't taken him long here.
His teammates refer to him as Zoolander, Thunder from Down Under and Aus-struck.
"It's just a good vibe," Lonie said of being around the Golden Bears. "The guys are down to earth. It's laid back, similar to Australia."
Third-year California coach Jeff Tedford - no-nonsense, always intense and basically the opposite of his punter - was so interested in Lonie that he took a 34-hour round-trip flight to Australia just to meet his parents for 15 minutes. Lonie, also highly sought after by many other schools, wasn't even there at the time.
Tedford likes Lonie's maturity and life experience, and the fact he's already done so many interesting things.
"I don't think players have to be so shallow and only think about football," Tedford said. "He's a more mature young man because he's well traveled and has been making his own money for so long. I told him he's going to provide leadership for this team."
Lonie is 25 years old, but isn't getting much razzing for it because "half the guys don't even know," he said. He is studying education and youth culture.
He had verbally committed to Ohio State two years ago, but didn't qualify academically because some of his course work from Australia didn't comply with NCAA standards. So, Lonie enrolled at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa. He declined a chance to join the Canadian Football League because he didn't want to burn his college eligibility.
He averaged 41.8 yards per punt last season as a sophomore and converted 21 of 25 PATs - the ones he missed were all bad snaps. He converted 11-of-19 field-goal tries.
For now, Lonie is the starting punter. But his predecessor at Cal, Tyler Fredrickson, punted, kicked off and booted field goals. Lonie's role could grow.
His teammates wouldn't mind. They liked Lonie right away during spring ball, then he played well in the Bears' 56-14 win at Air Force last week.
"He's a real good guy," linebacker Joe Maningo said. "Your basic first impression is he's just a fun-loving person. He carries it onto the field. His skills are tremendous. His placement really helps out the special teams and defense.
"It's crazy how the guy just came in. He was punting it from one sideline into the stands on the other side. I've never seen a punter do that. It shows his leg strength."
Lonie hopes to take that strength to the NFL, and he wouldn't be the first Aussie to do it.
Darren Bennett punts for the Minnesota Vikings, and Aussie Nathan Chapman was cut by Green Bay last month.
Those who know Lonie wouldn't put it past him.
"I'm a quick learner," he said.