PROVO — It is 10:15 on the night before BYU’s fall camp begins, and punter Jonny Linehan is in rare form.
“Everyone focuses differently. For me, I’m best when I’m checking Twitter, playing FIFA, and listening to Spice Girls. Don’t hate on me,” he tweets.
A day later, after the first practice, the New Zealand native isn’t backing down.
“Love the Spice Girls,” he tells me.
I feel like I’m boarding an amusement ride.
“If they had, like, walkout sounds like in baseball, I feel I could get more in the heads of the opposition,” he says. “They’d be like, ‘What is he listening to?’”
Linehan joined BYU’s football team after winning three national championships with the Cougar rugby team. He now channels a long line of Cougar funnymen who played football with a sense of humor: Hans Olsen, Jason Scukanec, Shawn Knight, Rob Morris, Gym Kimball, Bob Davis, Jim McMahon, Dan Plater and many more.
Kimball once quarterbacked in a JV game that drew only a dozen fans. Still, he cupped his hands to his ear-holes and signaled to the refs he couldn’t’ hear above the crowd noise. Plater and teammate Tom Holmoe (yes, that Tom Holmoe) smuggled a shark on a plane and dissected it in their hotel room. Olsen balanced a couch on his chin for an ESPN The Magazine photo shoot. Knight organized a water balloon artillery attack from a high floor of the Princess Kaiulani hotel in Honolulu, sending tourists scurrying.
The stereotype of BYU players having no personality is false.
“I try,” Linehan says, “to keep it lighthearted.”
That’s not the first word that comes to mind with the BYU-Utah rivalry. When a Ute fan tweets: “And to think byu's ’best’ schedule ever still has fewer P5 teams than 100% of P5 teams play every single year. LOLOLOL,” Linehan fires back: “Mate, if you spent as much time trying to find a job as you do hating on BYU, you’d be rich enough to move out of your parents’ basement.”
“Even Utah fans don’t like him,” Linehan says of the Ute antagonist. “He’s like super trolling, getting on recruits and stuff. I try to shut him up a little bit.”
On BYU Media Day, in June, Linehan mimicked Utah fans that were hounding the Cougars for starting a month before most teams.
“LOL! BYU's having media day in June?! LOL! Zoobies. But I don't care about them obviously. LOL,” Linehan wrote, signing his tweet “Ute fans.”
Linehan is more than just a funny guy. He’s a Ray Guy watch list consideration. Last year he averaged 42.5 yards a punt, 38th of 115 listed in the national stats. But more important than distance has been his placement.
“As a specialist,” he says on the first day of camp, “you kind of have to promote yourself, because no one else really cares what you’re doing. The only time the punter is on the field is when your team is turning the ball over.”
Linehan tweets about anything that interests him. For instance, the people ahead of him in the checkout line.
“If you want buy 126 items you probably shouldn’t use the self-checkout system at the grocery store,” he writes. “Yes. I counted. Yes. I’m petty.”
Though Linehan is every bit the happy mate from Down Under, he acknowledges the rivalry between New Zealand and Australia. Growing up in Auckland, he says, “I wouldn’t say I was a fan of Australia.”
But when he’s in the Northern Hemisphere, he calls Aussies and New Zealanders “Down Under” buddies. He has a sister in Melbourne and served an LDS Church mission to Adelaide. He and Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky, from Australia, follow one another on Twitter.
“The countries are very similar but we and Australians are very competitive. Kind of at each other’s throats. But it’s funny because now that I’m away, whether you’re from New Zealand or Australia, you’re from Down Under — we’re all mates,” he says.
I ask if coaches ever order him to dial down his tweets. Some coaches (Mike Leach, Chris Petersen, DeWayne Walker) have banned certain teams from Twitter. But Linehan has never been told to shut down his account, or even change content.
“Maybe they would if I was, like, offensive,” Linehan says. “But they know most of my stuff is always good natured and lighthearted.”
This is true. A few days earlier he tweeted: “I was with my son at the Provo parade and the beauty pageant winners went past and said, “SO CUTE!” I turned to my wife and said, ‘I still got it.’”
Good punters have distance, placement and hang time. Linehan has it all, both on the field and in the Twitterverse.
“Most of my days,” he tweets, “I find myself trying to figure out how to squeeze a short 5 hour nap into 15 minutes.”
No one cares what the punter is doing?
The Twitterverse would disagree.