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Big Ten punters just keep turning up from down under

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Big Ten punters just keep turning up from down under

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Big Ten territory will soon stretch to the West Coast with UCLA and USC, after the seismic expansion finalized this summer.

On fourth downs, the footprint stretches much wider than that.

Half of the league’s 14 programs this season have a primary punter produced by Prokick Australia, the development academy from Down Under supplying major college football with game-ready special teamers at a remarkable rate.

For Purdue (Jack Ansell), Minnesota (Mark Crawford), Indiana (James Evans), Rutgers (Adam Korsak), Ohio State (Jesse Mirco), Illinois (Hugh Robertson) and Iowa (Tory Taylor), punts come with a thick accent and, well, few worries, mate.

Evans is from New Zealand. The others are Australians, as is Korsak’s replacement-in-waiting, freshman Flynn Appleby. Jude McAtamney, the kicker for the Scarlet Knights, is another former Prokick pupil from Ireland.

“We all know each other and give each other a bit of lip every now and then,” said Crawford, a native of Perth in his third year with the Gophers.

The Aussies have relished pregame and offseason connections in a place where a visit from parents is rare and the adjustment to climate, dialect and culture in Big Ten country is significant.

“Even now the words they say, it gets confusing sometimes,” said Evans, a second-year player who inherited the Hoosiers job from Prokick alum Haydon Whitehead. “When I’d go to order coffee, I’d say my name was James, and probably four or five times they said, ‘Jess?’ I said no, ‘It’s James, like one of the most common names.’”

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One of Crawford’s closest friends at Prokick was Taylor, who downed seven of his 10 punts on Saturday inside the 20-yard line for a gross average of 47.9 yards per attempt in a 7-3 win over South Dakota State. He was an easy selection for Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week.

“I’m a pretty relaxed guy out there. I just try and catch it and kick it as far and as high as I can,” said Taylor, a third-year native of Melbourne.

Korsak was a first team preseason Associated Press All-America team pick who set the NCAA record for net average in 2021 and became the gold standard for his peers. The Melbourne native put cricket, golf and Australian Rules Football pursuits on the back burner to enroll in Prokick.

“I love Rutgers so much,” said Korsak, who moved on to two Master’s programs after getting his undergraduate degree. “Every minute of it.”

Nathan Chapman founded Prokick with John Smith in 2007, aiming to apply first-hand knowledge from NFL tryouts toward training Australia’s ample supply of big-legged prospects. The operation has flourished over 15 years, now with five satellite locations beyond the Melbourne headquarters. Connections abound with FBS coaching staffs.

“If there was going to be some longevity or an influx of Australians down there to kick, then they needed to be taught and helped along the way so they don’t make silly mistakes that shorten their attempt. I put my name on a business card and got to work,” said Chapman, who signed with Green Bay in the 2004 offseason before being cut at the end of training camp.

Prokick alumni have accounted for six of the last nine Ray Guy Award winners, given annually to the best punter in college football. Last season, more than 40% of FBS punters were Prokick alums. James Burnip (Alabama) even gave the program a spot in the national championship game.

The program has landed full scholarships for 190 players and counting, boasting a better than 90% placement rate for entrants whose skills, character and academics are deemed worthy of acceptance. The baseline on the initial assessment is a 45-yard, 4½-second kick. Practice sessions are typically three times per week, with strength and conditioning sessions on the side.

Time in the program varies by participant. When a college team calls Prokick in search of a punter for that next recruiting class, the process can accelerate quickly.

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The first American football game Crawford ever watched was the Super Bowl less than seven years before he boarded an airplane for the 30-plus-hour trek to Minnesota. He arrived about two months before COVID-19 shut down spring practice and forced him to practice at a park across the street.

Earlier this year, he was able to travel home to visit his parents for the first time in 2½ years — and show off some life skills gained from the discipline and structure inherent to college football.

“I was making my bed. I was making sure everything was clean and my mom was like, ‘What’s going on with you? What are they doing to you?’” Crawford said.

Australian rules kicks are made on the run and usually travel end over end, so there’s much to instruct about the American style — and environment.

“Some appreciate and understand the high-pressure situation they’re going into, and some take a while. They think it’s just kicking a football. They might see the crowds on TV and think that’s fun, but they don’t associate the time and the pressure and the effort it’s going to take,” Chapman said last month in a video interview from Melbourne.

These punters are used to being far more involved in Australian rules: think quarterback, running back and tight end rolled into one. With the exception of Taylor’s recent busy afternoon, work here can be much slower. Crawford punted only once in Minnesota’s 38-0 win over New Mexico State.

Chapman and his staff watch as much of their former pupils in action as possible. With Melbourne 15 hours ahead of Minneapolis, that means a Sunday session in front of the TV could last from 2 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“It’s a long day of scrolling through football games looking for punts to come out,” Chapman said with a big laugh.

These Aussies are often “older blokes,” as the 28-year-old Crawford put it. Oklahoma State’s Tom Hutton is 32. That’s not too old to dream of the NFL, of course, with Seattle’s Michael Dickson, Houston’s Cameron Johnston, Philadelphia’s Arrynn Siposs and San Francisco’s Mitch Wisnowsky currently giving Prokick a presence in the league. The worst-case scenario is usually a college degree at a well-regarded institution.

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“We pick the right player, and we know they will be able to compete and handle the pressure in that environment,” Chapman said. “That’s big boy football right there in the Big Ten, so they need to know their stuff.”

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AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan and Michael Marot contributed to this report.

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More AP college football coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://apnews.com/cfbtop25.

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Austin Local News

Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

The patience of Memorial Day weekend travelers was tested Thursday by widespread delays across the country, but there were relatively few canceled flights, raising hopes that airlines can handle bigger crowds expected Friday.

By early evening on the East Coast, more than 6,000 flights had been delayed Thursday, with the biggest backups at the three major airports in the New York City area and Dallas-Fort Worth International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

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Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

The Transportation Security Administration predicted that Friday will be the busiest day for air travel over the holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million people expected to pass through airport checkpoints. It could rival the record of 2.9 million, set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“Airports are going to be more packed than we have seen in 20 years,” said Aixa Diaz, a spokesperson for AAA.

When they aren’t waiting out flight delays, travelers are reporting sticker shock at the prices.

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Larisa Latimer of New Lenox, Illinois, said her airfare was reasonable but other expenses for a getaway to New Orleans were not.

 

 

 

 

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Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

“I just have to make the accommodation,” she said. “The rental car is up … this year, the hotel accommodations were very unusually expensive.”

Kathy Larko of Fort Meyers, Florida, used frequent-flyer miles — and some flexible scheduling — to pay for her trip to Chicago.

“I’m really conscious of looking at the cost of the entire trip. We’re staying a little farther out than we normally would” to get a lower hotel rate, she said. “We’re also flying back a day later, because we could get cheaper miles.”

More travelers will be on the road. AAA estimates that 43.8 million people will venture at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home between Thursday and Monday, with 38 million of them taking vehicles.

 
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Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Airport unions are using the holiday weekend to highlight their demands.

About 100 workers who clean airplane cabins and drive trash trucks at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, started a 24-hour strike Thursday, demanding better pay and healthcare, according to the Service Employees International Union. About 15% of flights were delayed, but it was unclear whether the strike played any role.

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A planned strike at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was averted, however. Teamsters Local 553, which represents about 300 workers who refuel passenger and cargo jets at JFK, said that it reached a settlement with Allied Aviation Services and called off a walkout planned for Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

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“We are happy an agreement has been reached, a need for a strike averted, and we are hopeful that the deal will be ratified by our members,” said Demos Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of the local.

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Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago and Associated Press radio reporter Shelley Adler in Washington contributed to this report.

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk.

Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Her term starts June 1.

The committee, which compiles data on pregnancy-related deaths, makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes and is expected to assess the impact of abortion laws on maternal mortality.

Skop, who has worked as an OB-GYN for over three decades, is vice president and director of medical affairs for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group. Skop will be the committee’s rural representative.

Skop, who has worked in San Antonio for most of her career, told the Houston Chronicle that she has “often cared for women traveling long distances from rural Texas maternity deserts, including women suffering complications from abortions.”

Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S., and doctors have sought clarity on the state’s medical exemption, which allows an abortion to save a woman’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function. Doctors have said the exemption is too vague, making it difficult to offer life-saving care for fear of repercussions. A doctor convicted of providing an illegal abortion in Texas can face up to 99 years in prison and a $100,000 fine and lose their medical license.

Skop has said medical associations are not giving doctors the proper guidance on the matter. She has also shared more controversial views, saying during a congressional hearing in 2021 that rape or incest victims as young as 9 or 10 could carry pregnancies to term.

Texas’ abortion ban has no exemption for cases of rape or incest.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says abortion is “inherently tied to maternal health,” said in a statement that members of the Texas committee should be “unbiased, free of conflicts of interest and focused on the appropriate standards of care.” The organization noted that bias against abortion has already led to “compromised” analyses, citing a research articles co-authored by Skop and others affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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Earlier this year a medical journal retracted studies supported by the Charlotte Lozier Institute claiming to show harms of the abortion pill mifepristone, citing conflicts of interests by the authors and flaws in their research. Two of the studies were cited in a pivotal Texas court ruling that has threatened access to the drug.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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