Starting off with a basketball-like jump ball, what looks like a red rugby ball is tossed into the air and comes down in a sea of chaos.
Twenty-four players jostle and fight for the ball, only to punt it across a large oval-shaped field. On the other end, a teammate jumps into the air snatching the ball. “Great mark!” is heard from the sideline, then the ball is kicked between two large posts coming out of the ground.
Though it may be confusing at first, Australian football — commonly referred to as Aussie Rules or Footy — is a fast-paced, full-contact sport that is taking root in the U.S. in the form of the United States Australian Football League.
The sport was introduced to Baton Rouge in 2004 when three Australian natives started the Baton Rouge Tigers. Now, USAFL President and Melbourne, Australia, native Denis Ryan, along with the Tigers’ club president, Joseph Roy, are looking to expand interest to the LSU campus.
“[We] were just sitting around at George’s, under the Perkins overpass, having a bite to eat and a few beers and saying how much we missed playing the game,” said Robert Montanaro, the Tigers’ Co-founder and Treasurer.
Former LSU punter Brad Wing honed his punting skills playing Australian football in his hometown of Melbourne. Passing and shooting the ball in requires punting the ball with pinpoint accuracy, which allowed Wing to develop the ability to pin opposing offenses deep within their own red zone.
Invented in 1858, Australian football was intended to be a way for Victorian cricketers to stay fit during Australia’s winter months.
The object of Aussie Rules is to kick the ball between two upright goal posts placed seven yards apart. Seven yards on either side of each of the posts are two shorter posts called “behind posts.” A kick through the goal posts will earn six points, while a kick that goes between a goal post and one of the smaller behind posts is worth one point.
A pass can be made by punting the ball, or “handballing.” Handballing is similar to a volleyball serve, in which the ball is held in one hand and then punched with the other hand in the direction of the pass.
If the ball is caught out of the air from a kick without first touching the ground, known as a “mark,” the catching player is given a free kick, which can be used to pass or shoot on goal.
The Victorian league soon spread to other Australian states and quickly became the national sport. The resulting league was known as the Australian Football League, or AFL.
“It’s like a religion in Australia,” Ryan said.
Modeled after the AFL, the USAFL contains a growing group of teams spanning the country from Boston to San Diego. Though the league is nationwide, a small budget restricts the number of games that can be played in any given season. During the season, the Tigers stay in the southern region and play the nearby teams in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Nashville and Atlanta.
Ryan and Roy said they believe the best way to grow Aussie Rules is to start with college students who were former high school athletes and who crave a way to be competitive at a high level.
“Anyone that has ever done something and is looking for something else to do because the opportunities in whatever the sport they played before are now diminished or non-existent, give this a go,” said Ryan. “This is going to fill a void in your life.”
A club team on campus would not only grow the game at a collegiate level, but also give the Baton Rouge Tigers a team with which to practice and a larger pool of players to draw from for the national tournament at the end of the season in October.
“We would love to get a club team going or an intramural competition going here at the school” Ryan said. “So we just need to expose it to some of the students, we absolutely know that they would love to play it.”