Oliver Straw is starting to become more of a household name in Morgantown and the surrounding areas of the West Virginia University campus, even though he may not be one of the ones doing any of the scoring.
Straw’s journey to be a part of the Mountaineers still makes him one of the more unique players on the roster.
Straw came to West Virginia in January by way of Melbourne, Australia. He was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, to an Australian father, Anthony, and an English mother, Joanne. The family moved from the United States to England before finally settling in the Land Down Under.
“It’s been a big adjustment,” Straw said of being in West Virginia during Tuesday’s news conference. “Especially with the cold weather. I hadn’t seen snow until I got here in January. But, here, it’s been similar with the community feel.”
During his time at Mentone Grammar School in Melbourne, Straw participated in a six month exchange program with Shore Regional High School in West Long Branch, New Jersey, where he played both football and basketball.
There, he got his first taste of American football after playing Australian rules football for his high school team and local AAU squad for seven years. Straw, along with punting, played tight end and defensive end.
“I didn’t get to play varsity in New Jersey due to a transfer rule for international students,” Straw said. “I did play JV, and maybe got three or four punts, because they normally don’t like to punt the ball in JV.
“I did like tight end, though. I would’ve taken that was my background if I started here.”
Straw noted that there are a “mountain” of differences between Australian and American football, including the field in Australia being shaped like an oval. Straw said the biggest adjustment in his opinion was wearing the pads and helmet.
“We had them in Australia, but they’re nothing compared to what we have here,” Straw said. “It’s different in terms of the way the game is played. I just love playing the sport.”
Straw‘s ultimate goal was to attend college and play sports in the United States. He didn’t officially start to pursue football, though, until a friend of his father’s who worked with the Buffalo Bills saw him punt and recommended he give it a shot.
Straw then began to work with Prokick Australia, an academy that trains Australian punters and helps them gain exposure to colleges in the United States.
Prokick is very prominent, producing five Ray Guy Award winners and 17 All-Americans, as well as placing three punters on current Big 12 rosters. Straw began training as a senior in high school as the youngest person in the program, working with others aged 20 to 25 and upwards of 30.
“I worked with them for one-and-a-half to two years,” Straw said. “Working with them gave me the opportunity to come here. You typically don’t hear about (the recruiting process), we leave that to the coaches who run Prokick.
“They handle the talks with coaches and what schools are interested. You don’t really hear too much until it becomes a serious thing. (For West Virginia), I just had a phone call with the coaches and I was all set.”
Straw brings a strong repertoire to West Virginia, being able to punt with both feet, and also kick with multiple different styles depending on the game situation and what call is relayed from the Mountaineer coaches.
His performance has been recognized, as Straw was named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week following the Mountaineers’ loss to Texas Tech.
In the game, Straw recorded five punts, averaging 46.6 yards per boot. He kicked a 63–yarder to set a career long.
“It’s an honor, I wasn’t expecting it honestly,” Straw said. “I was just going out there and doing as much as I could to help the team in the little role that I do have on the field. I couldn’t have done it without my snapper and my coverage unit.”
Straw added that getting the award was tough to receive in a losing effort, and exemplified his role as a team player by saying he would’ve rather had the contest end in a better result.
“I know we try to focus on the bright spots, but there’s always room for improvement,” Straw said. “I always prefer to have the team do better, even if I don’t have to punt.”
Through seven games, Straw has averaged 41.6 yards per punt, while recording one touchback and seven kicks inside the 20.