Early last year, Daniel Cerni (pronounced with a “ch” sound) flew from his hometown in Canberra, Australia, to the U.S. to visit a friend at Idaho State. He ended up sitting in the stands watching one of her basketball games.
“At one point, I sort of turned around and said to a lady, ‘Where do you think I’m from?’ A random point, I’m not too sure why I said that, but we ended up talking about America and the sports they offer,” he said in an interview with Chris Schmidt of Hail Varsity Radio. “Next thing I know… we got to why wouldn’t I try American football? What’s stopping me?”
Nothing, really, he could reason. So when he flew back to Australia, he started immediately watching and reading anything he could get his hands on that had to do with American football. Movies, documentaries, books, newspaper clippings. In his research, he found Prokick Australia.
After just 10 years of existence, Prokick has produced 75 scholarship athletes, 17 All-Americans, five Ray Guy award winners. The mission of the program, according to its website: “to help guide and transition Australian athletes to perform at the college/ NFL level, and with our natural Aussie instinct of kicking a ball, we have focused on that area.”
You have to be invited into the camp, and it’s located eight hours away from Canberra in Melbourne. When nearby for a cousin’s wedding, Cerni took part in a trial.
“As soon as I started talking to the coaches, I was instantly comfortable with the whole situation,” he said. “It was something I wanted to pursue as soon as I stepped foot there.”
So he moved to Melbourne last October and started training. Without any predetermined notions of college football or its individual programs, Cerni said “the actual boys who I trained with opened my eyes up to the magnitude of what American football is all about.”
Around January or February (Cerni said “about three or four months ago”), Nebraska came into the picture. Jonathan Rutledge, the Huskers’ senior special teams analyst, has been no stranger to Prokick in the past, so he and head coach Scott Frost got to talking with the 20-year-old Cerni.
When he was at Auburn, Rutledge brought Arryn Siposs from Melbourne to Alabama in the 2018 class. Siposs was an honorable mention All-American punter for PFF in his 2018 season, his first playing American football. Siposs earned All-SEC third-team honors from the media last year.
In picking a college, Cerni had a set of boxes he needed to check. Nebraska had the staff, the facilities, the nutrition program and the fanbase.
“I looked into the history behind it all and I was amazed to see that over something like the last 60 years, I think it was, that the actual stadium has been sold out. That was a bit crazy to see,” he said. “It was evident to me that the culture within the team and surrounding the team was just astonishing. That was apparent when I made the commitment post. A lot of the fans actually supported me and it just made me feel really, really nice, to be honest.”
Prokick prides itself on development. Rutledge does the same. Nebraska, Cerni said on multiple occasions, seemed a perfect fit.
“I started looking into them and who they actually were, and their résumés of what they’ve achieved in life were pretty astonishing to me,” he said. “That obviously had a profound effect on me joining Nebraska. They’re really down to Earth and obviously both knew the game like it’s second nature to them.
“I do sort of get the vibe that with their guidance it can be acclimatized to me, in a sense, and that sort of drew me to a place like Nebraska. I wanted to be my true self when I did come to America and show who I really am, and Nebraska just seemed like the perfect fit for that.”
Cerni’s work at Prokick and his recent commitment to Nebraska have sparked “a bit of attention” in Canberra and from the Australian Football League community, he said. He gets all sorts of people messaging to ask what Nebraska and American football is all about.
“I do think a lot of boys will sort of move onto this path and give it a crack,” he said. “Once you get to realizing what this is, you sort of suggest, ‘Why wouldn’t you give it a crack?’”
The timeline for Cerni getting his first crack at the NU starting gig is a bit fuzzy. He’s still going through a process of applying and filling out documentation to get from Australia to the US. Complicating matters is the near-shutdown of international travel. In April, the US Embassy and Consulates stopped offering routine passport and citizenship services, restricting those services to US citizens in Australia needing an emergency passport only.
“Hopefully sooner rather than later I’ll be on a plane over to the states,” Cerni said. “But I’m not 100% sure when that’ll be.”
When he is able to make it, he may very well be joining a competition without a clear frontrunner. Isaac Armstrong handled the starting punter gig a season ago, but has since graduated. Nebraska has former Michigan State transfer Will Przystup and redshirt freshman Grant Detlefsen to contend for the spot, but Cerni will be the only scholarship punter.
An inside track? Perhaps.
“I’m really excited for the future,” he said.