JY Bond has a strong message for those NRL pretenders who think they can make it in the US.
They should prepare themselves for a brief conversation that finishes with a cardboard box. Not a big one, either. Just enough space for your cleats, toiletries, maybe a training sweatshirt if you can pinch one. But more than that? “Pal, go line up outside our NFL Team Store with all the other supporters.”
Because, once again, that’s exactly where you live.
“And to describe the feeling? It’s shithouse,” Jy Bond deadpans. “You’re standing inside the locker room, your box tucked under one arm just like in the movies, thinking ‘f…, what am I doing here?’ And I don’t just mean with your football. Suddenly you’re questioning where the next dollar will come from. Where you’ll go that night. You don’t even have a home anymore, but too bad… pack your shit and go.”
And for the past three years, this is exactly what Bond has done. This towering, thickset Melburnian – the son of 1970s Richmond star Graeme Bond, no less – quietly humping his swag around the US in a blur of playbooks, punts and promises. A journey of full NFL rosters and empty cardboard boxes.
There are four, maybe five, punters who live within a bee’s appendage of an NFL contract. Jy Bond is one of them.
Twice he has signed NFL contracts. Twice receiving a box before the season even began.
Yet still he persists.
This anonymous 32-year-old toiler, an Australian underdog story right down to the VB bottle opener on his keyring, kicks away knowing he’s only one eye-catching performance from that world where contemporaries drive BMWs, own Florida beach homes and, in the case of the Oakland Raiders’ Shane Lechler, earn $3 million a year.
Where every weekend at places like the Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, some 100,000 fans scream you through the longest 1.3 seconds in world sport.
And still Bond’s is a story no one wants to tell.
His tale of persistence overshadowed by those latest newspaper headlines screaming about the NFL pursuits of Aussies like Brendan Fevola, Nick Davis and Willie Mason. Of Cory Paterson and, ridiculously, Todd Carney.
Yet here in the States, here where NRL is a misprint not a football league, the only Down Under Wonder anyone cares about is the ambidextrous blond.
“There’s no doubting Jy should be in the NFL,” says Sav Rocca, the 1990s Collingwood king who now punts for Washington.
“To be honest, I can’t believe it hasn’t happened yet. But it will. He’s right there…”
Like in 2009, when Bond joined the Miami Dolphins only to be cut within weeks of the season opener. Or the following year when, having signed with the New York Giants, punt returner Domenik Hixon, a good friend who lived in the same apartment block, busted his knee in training and was put on the injured list.
“So then a new guy had to come in for Dom,” Bond shrugs. “Which also meant someone had to go.”
“And that one, it was really tough because I’d never kicked better,” the punter recalls, sitting now with The Sunday Telegraph in a Sacramento coffee shop.
“I remember rolling into training only days after Dominic was injured and a staffer saying ‘coach wants to see you’. I was excited, thinking, ‘OK great, there’s obviously something he wants me to work on today’. So I walk into Tom Coughlin’s office and he says, ‘sorry, but we gotta pull the rug from under you here’. And that was it. I was gone.”
So can someone please tell this to Mason, Carney and co? Explaining how there are 32 NFL punters. Some 320 million Americans. The competition for spots so fierce that every year college football alone produces 700 punting candidates.
“Which,” Bond laughs, “puts your chances of success up there with Lottery odds.”
And for proof, consider that Bond waited three years before even suiting up for his first game. The opportunity finally coming when he signed on for a season with Hartford Colonials in the UFL – a feeder competition where crowds number 25,000, teams travel on private jets and players receive $50,000 for no more than two months’ work.
“So it’s serious,” Bond offers. “At Hartford, we had a linebacker arrive five minutes late for a meeting – they cut him. Another time, playing away, they cut a guy and wouldn’t even let him fly home on our jet. Told him to book in his own flights.
“But that’s how it is over here. Players get cut all the time without the rest of us knowing how or why. One day you’ll turn up for training and the locker next to yours, it’s empty.”
In a recent interview with ESPN, Colonials coach Chris Palmer said of Bond: “He comes to camp, you see his leg and go ‘wow, this guy can make it in the NFL’.”
And yet here we sit in a Sacramento coffee shop.
Officially, Bond is unemployed. He has no home, no car. Living right now in a city so panned that, despite being the capital of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, when Governor, would use a private jet to fly himself back to Los Angeles every evening.
Bond has lived in Miami, New Jersey and Connecticut. New York and San Diego, too. He moved only recently to ‘Sac Town’ because his good mate ‘The Wok’ – a redheaded Melbourne boy who now works Stateside – demanded he come and spend a few months living as good as rent free.
And for a guy surviving on what’s left of that 50 grand made with Hartford, well, it makes sense. Especially when you consider he’s previously slept on couches to ensure there was enough in the bank to pay airfares and accommodation for his next NFL trial.
“You won’t see me walking around in a new pair of Air Max sneakers, put it that way,” Bond laughs. “It’s also why I never invite friends from Australia to come stay. It’s embarrassing. They’ll plan all year for a New York holiday and, when they finally arrive, you have to say, ‘ah, sorry to ruin everything, but I don’t actually live there anymore’.”
So why does he do it? Why does this obviously gifted Australian rules footballer, a fella who was signed briefly by Richmond under the father/son rule, persist in a code where the odds are stacked so heavily against him?
“Why? Because, yes, I played footy, went to Richmond, blah, blah, blah,” he shrugs. “But I did that because I was expected to do it. Arriving at dad’s old club, I expected to just roll and in play, you know what I mean?”
So he could have prepared better? “Oh, absolutely I could’ve made a better go of AFL,” he says. “But I don’t feel like it’s what I was meant to do. Sure, over here, there are plenty of days where it’s shit. Awful. You’re across the other side of the world from family, from friends, thinking, ‘geez, I need a team, if only to get a house’.
“But at the same time, this is exactly where I want to be. Training. Hanging in. Being over here, trying to make it into the NFL, I love it. I love punting footballs.”
Which is also why Bond insists he will not make those same mistakes that cruelled his time at the Tigers.
So four days of every week, on a practice field he books in advance, this unknown Aussie meets up with a long snapper who lives nearby and punts hundreds of balls. Snap, punt… snap, punt… snap, punt.
Four days a week you can also find Bond in his nondescript Sac Town gym. And while Rocca has no idea what he leg presses at the Redskins – “trainers look at my sheet, load the weights on and I lift ’em” – Bond is forever checking stats, loading the bars and groaning his way through 200kg squats.
On top of that are yoga classes. Pilates at night. Anything, he says, to ensure “that when my one chance finally comes, I’m ready”.
And when you consider he could be called into the NFL at any time, there are also countless hours studying what this American football rookie once likened to “learning Chinese arithmetic”. A chaotic swirl of variables involving laces, pooch punts, direction, breeze, hang time, edges, rushing defence, position, even the varying nuances of 32 NFL punt returners.
All of it here and gone within 1.3 seconds. “Although sometimes you have a little leeway,” Bond says without a hint of the dramatic. “Sometimes you might have 1.4.”
You believe he’ll use that tenth of a second too.
While he may look every inch the son of an AFL premiership player, you sense Bond has received much of his drive from mum Merelyn, the single parent who, for years, would rush from work to drive her boy to training or games. Who years later also helped fund an overseas trip so Jy could visit a step-brother playing college baseball.
It was on that holiday that US coaches first noticed the blond Aussie booting a Sherrin by the sidelines. So excited by his range that, moments later, having scrounged up an American footy, they called out, “see how yah go puntin’ this”.
Bond also praises the guidance of Rocca. And Darren Bennett, the unassuming Aussie, who, back in the 1990s, was crowned NFL punter of the decade.
When Bond was struggling to make the switch from kicking a Sherrin, it was Bennett who gave up his secrets. And when Bond was cut by the Dolphins, Bennett gave up his couch.
Maybe the Godfather of Australian NFL punting sees something of himself in a fella who has “Believe” inked on his left wrist and “Destiny” on the right.
Indeed, belief is what keeps Bond going as the boxes pile up. And the knowledge that Mat McBriar, another Aussie superboot currently signed with Dallas, was cut by both Seattle and Denver before inking a $10 million deal. And Rocca, now in his fifth season of NFL, was also overlooked twice.
Which is why, Bond stresses, his opportunity will come. One year, one game, one punt, who knows? His only guarantee being that when the opportunity presents itself, he’ll be good to go. Ready for the moment when that conversation doesn’t finish with a cardboard box.