Age is nothing but a number for 27-year-old punter Mitch Wishnowsky, the 49ers' surprise 4th round selection of the draft, whose path to the NFL has been anything but conventional.
It was a surprise to everyone outside of the 49ers' draft room that Wishnowsky would be the team’s selection in the fourth round. Wishnowsky described his disbelief during his conference call as well the many surprises that have happened along the way.
“You see punters normally get taken, it sort of starts in the fifth,” Wishnowsky said. “I feel like I really got along with coach (Richard) Hightower and coach (Stan) Kwon. I was hoping it was going to be San Fran and I think they were about two picks away and I got a call and I was like ‘You’re kidding me.’ Unbelievable.”
Wishnowsky played in the Australian Football League until shoulder injuries forced him to retire. His love for the game kept him playing flag American football in a park where he was spotted by a friend of John Smith and Nathan Chapman.
Smith and Chapman are the founders of ProKick, an organization based out of Melbourne that helps Australian rules players make the transition to American football.
“I got a call from John, and John told me he would change my life, send me to America, all that good stuff,” Wishnowsky said. “I went home, told my folks that John Smith is going to send me to America, and they thought I was smoking something.
“I ended up just handing in my resignation at work, moving to Melbourne for a year to train and learn the standard two-punt spiral because we sort of learned to punt on the run in Australian football. Yeah, moved to Santa Barbara to junior college, played one year, did 18 months to finish my AA degree and then went to Utah for three.”
At 27 years old, Wishnowsky will likely be the eldest of the 49ers' 2019 draft class but he has never felt that his age set him apart. One of the reasons is because he went to Utah which tends to have older players on their team.
“I went to Utah where there's lots of returned missionaries,” Wishnowsky said. “So like when I first got there, Andy Phillips, my kicker, I think was 27, and he was one of my best mates, like punter/kicker. Chase Hansen is my age, who's in the draft this year. There's a few older guys. But no, I feel like most people in sports sort of have the same mindset and we're all working towards the same goal, so age doesn't, never really played too much of a part.”
Wishnowsky’s selection in the fourth round is the highest for a ProKick product. Seattle’s punter Michael Dickson, another graduate of the Melbourne based training program, was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round as the 149th overall of the 2018 draft.
The surprise of being selected provoked some emotions from Wishnowsky who was told by coach Kyle Shanahan that he was one of their targets all along. Shanahan added that they were afraid of losing him to another team. It was also emotional for WIshnowsky's ProKick coach who was woken up at 3 a.m. local Melbourne time to get the news from Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
“I’m just so proud and happy for him,” Chapman said. “I’m sorry I’m stuck for words, it’s quite emotional. He is such a good punter and athlete, the 49ers have made a fantastic choice in picking Mitch.”