Punter Sloan comes up big in face of adversity for UTEP Miners
Guts and toughness are not attributes typically assigned to punters.
There was a time when UTEP's Joshua Sloan, a Melbournite with a background in Australian Rules Football, wouldn't have been a typical punter. As that changes, as the Australian punter invasion accelerates, the perception of punters may start to change.
Sloan showed that last week against Old Dominion, a game that featured a duel of Australian punters, when his toughness and resiliency in the face of adversity mirrored that of his team. Two plays he made helped UTEP get to 4-1 as it heads to Southern Miss on Saturday.
Late in the third quarter, the Monarchs, the best punt-blocking team in college football, completed a big comeback by blocking a Sloan punt and returning it for a touchdown.
After stopping UTEP on its next drive, the Miners were against the wall before Sloan bounced back by pinning the Monarchs on their own 4-yard line with a field-position-changing punt that stopped UTEP's bleeding.
His final punt, with 1:23 remaining in the game, against a max rush, was downed on the 5. That meant the 57-yard ODU drive that ensued didn't come particularly close to beating the Miners.
In UTEP's time of need, Sloan came through.
"That last one we got it off pretty quickly," Sloan said. "Knowing they were coming is a little bit scary, I just needed to make sure I did my job. I wanted to pin it in the corner and once it hit the 4 or 5 and it bounced straight up, I was like, 'That's perfect, that's exactly what I wanted.'
"I just had to lock in. If I kept my head down I knew I would have been a burden to the team rather than asset. I wanted to make sure I could do my job for the team when we really needed it."
UTEP could breathe a sigh of relief.
"A gutsy performance," coach Dana Dimel said. "The heat's on, we knew on that last one they were coming after us full go. He catches it and gets it out of his hand in 2.1 seconds, which for a rugby punt, to get it out under 2.4 is really good."
"He got it out in 2.12 and put it right on the money. That comes down to being mentally tough because he's a football player and he's a great athlete. That's a nice tool to have back there."
More and more teams are availing themselves of the tools shipped in from the ProKick Australia academy, as about half the teams in the FBS have one.
Sloan's story is becoming more familiar.
"I was playing Australian football and I always had kind of a big kick," he said. "I was taking kick-outs and everything. One of my mates, Aiden Sleep-Dalton, his brother (former Arizona State punter Michael Sleep-Dalton) was the one who got me into it.
"There was a program and they took me on, they said, 'Do you want to do this, we can get you over to the States, get you an education?' I was like, 'That'll be perfect.'"
Sloan came over last season, following fellow Aussie Mitch Crawford after Crawford took a graduate transfer from UTEP to Michigan State. Sloan made an instant impact in his first American football games, which hid how hard it was for him to figure out a new sport.
"Coming out here and learning the process was pretty hard," he said. "I remember the first game I was asking the strength coaches what was happening, I was asking the other players what the rules were. Even now I walk around confused trying to figure out what's happening on the field, whether if it's a flag or if it's not."
Sloan actually thinks coming to El Paso in the middle of a global pandemic helped him make the transition to America.
"I came in during COVID, I was able to lock in to my first season and into my schooling," he said. "It made it a lot easier. This year having to go to class and doing football, it's a lot more comfortable because of the last year."
Aiding that comfort level is that he's not punting as much this year because UTEP is better at putting the ball in the end zone. For example, he didn't punt in the first half against Old Dominion. That's fine with Sloan.
"I don't get bored, I love watching the game and learning while I'm watching," Sloan said.
That's also fine with the Miners, who now know they can count on their Australian punter when times get tough.