May 14, 2007

Star from Australia kicks up a storm

Sunday, May 13, 2007
The Express-Times

PHILADELPHIA Despite the claims of his new head coach, Saverio Rocca's biggest adjustment in switching professional sports at age 33 will be extreme inactivity.

"There is a lot of down time and it's something that I'm going to have to get used to," the aspiring Eagles punter said of his first American football practice at minicamp on Saturday. "... We were standing on the other side (of the practice field), just waiting for our turn to come up. We were over there for an hour.

"It just seems like it's laid-back for the kickers, and all the other guys were busting their bums out there doing their work."

Rocca, a phenomenon in Australian rules football for most of the 1990s and the earlier part of this decade, decided last year that he wanted to give the NFL a try. He worked out for a couple of teams before signing with the Eagles not long after their season-ending playoff defeat in New Orleans.

Saturday, he did nothing to diminish the legend he carved for himself in Australia as one of the most powerful kickers in sports. Not all of his punts were better than incumbent Dirk Johnson's, but a good many were both longer and higher than any the Eagles have seen in a long time.

"I thought he did a nice job," coach Andy Reid said. "He has to be more consistent. This is the first time he had a football helmet on. It is a little different experience, but he sure is a competitor. He was a great player in Australia. We'll just see how he does here."

Rocca has a ways to go before earning a spot on the final roster, though. As Reid pointed out, in addition to wearing a helmet for the first time, Rocca has yet to face a live rush or even strap on pads.

Plus, until he faces game situations requiring directional kicks, nobody knows if he'll be able to master that, either.

Yet his all-around athletic skills remain intriguing, to say the least. Having played the Australian game, which is a tad more brutal than the brand played here, Rocca is a full-contact beast of a man at 6 feet, 4 inches and 255 pounds. He can kick on the run or just run without kicking it and dare tacklers to take him down.

None of those options have been discussed yet, according to Rocca, because he's still just trying to learn the American game.

Back home, he led the Australian Football League in goalkicking 10 times in 15 seasons, although he was dropped in his final season to the North Ballarat Roosters of the Victorian Football League, a minor-league affiliate of the AFL.

As an NFL punter, he could have plenty of prime years left if he proves he can play the game. "That's my aim," he said. "I'm not here just filling time. I want the job and I'm going to do everything I can to get it."

After 15 years of mostly star status in Australia, Rocca wouldn't mind the relative anonymity of being an NFL punter. In fact, he would prefer a lower profile at this stage of his career. It's one of the main reasons he came over.

But his primary motivation was fear of regret.

"There are a couple Aussies over here that are doing it," Rocca said, "and I know that I've got a good leg and can boom it a long way, so I thought I'd give it a go. I didn't want to wake up 20, 30 years from now wondering if I could have done it."

Nick Fierro can be reached at 800-360-3601 or by e-mail at

Dirk might be in trouble. I keep hearing great things about Rocca. they say his hang time is rediculous. I'm all for improving the team un any way. Dirk was just below average last year, and having a good punter can be an undervalued weapon. Here is a video of Saverio, and his brother in the AFL. Not the NFL, but just watch Sav boot the football. Dude can kick.

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