Football, Sports, WVU Sports

Punter Josh Growden finally able to cut loose at West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Josh Growden couldn’t be blamed for uncorking one.

Sure, his 60-yard fourth-quarter punt against James Madison rolled into the end zone for a touchback, which he was trying to avoid. But it felt good.

“That was nice,” Growden said. “I wish I did that a bit more.”

For the last two seasons, he was caged up like LSU mascot Mike the Tiger. Growden was LSU’s starting punter as a freshman, but was replaced as the Tigers’ primary punter in the fifth game of his sophomore year after a pair of uneven performances.

The Tigers still had use for the Australian native, but solely as a pooch-punter. When LSU was near midfield and wanted a ball carefully placed inside the 20, it called on Growden. He lived up to that task on 25 of 39 punts.

Alas, not even an unlimited supply of gumbo was enough to keep Growden happy with that arrangement. After going through another off-season training program with the Tigers, he was ready to head back to his native Australia and return to his first love – Aussie-rules football.

“I’m not getting younger,” the 26-year-old correctly deduced. “I was like ‘I may as well go back and try that now.’”

Growden was once a promising prospect in the Aussie Football League, playing professionally until a broken leg sidelined him and began his journey into American football.

There was only one hitch to Growden’s plan to go back home.

“I started speaking to a few teams and they weren’t really interested,” Growden said. “I’d been out of the game too long, and I was like ‘I guess that’s fair enough.’”

Growden’s path changed when his Australian mentor reached out with a problem. For the second straight year, things fell apart at the last moment with an Aussie punter who had committed to West Virginia. Hoping to save face, the folks at ProKick Australia asked Growden if he’d be willing to do a favor.

“My coach in Australia was like ‘We need someone to take a spot at West Virginia. Would you be willing?’” Growden said. “I entered the transfer portal to get that going. There were other teams contacting me, but I was like ‘I’m either going to West Virginia or back to Australia.’”

Growden’s only connection to West Virginia’s program at that point was completely coincidental. He was replaced as LSU’s primary punter the week of the Tigers’ 2017 game against Troy. Neal Brown led the Trojans to a 24-21 upset win that night.

“Not good memories,” Growden said of a game that featured a heated locker-room argument between LSU coach Ed Orgeron and offensive coordinator Matt Canada at halftime. “One of the first things I mentioned to [Neal] was ‘Why did you have to do that to us?’”

Growden arrived in Morgantown for the first time a week after training camp started. It felt glorious compared to an August in south Louisiana.

“It was nice to come in where it was about 10 degrees cooler,” he said.

Naturally, Growden has been a curiosity to many teammates. He’s eight years older than his backup, freshman Kolton McGhee.

“Through my actions I can show a bit more maturity and professionalism about how I go about things,” Growden said.

Most of his teammates have not played with or met anyone from Australia. Some have made it more obvious than others.

“I’ve had some weird questions about Australia,” Growden said. “Just the other night, someone asked if we had winter in Australia. Then about two questions later he asked ‘What’s the dumbest thing anyone’s ever asked you?’

“And I said, ‘Probably what you just said.’”