FORT WORTH, Texas — If the Horned Frogs fail to get a first down, TCU punter Jordy Sandy knows fans don’t typically wait around to watch.
“I'm usually like people's bathroom breaks,” Sandy, 29, said. “They don’t want to see me punt.”
But Sandy has given fans good reason to pay attention when he walks onto the field: For every punt Sandy lands inside the 20-yard line, he’s donating $20 to the Hope Center 4 Autism, a nonprofit in Fort Worth that provides therapy and academic classes for kids with autism.
“I just wanted to give something back to the Fort Worth community that's been so good to me,” the Australia native said.
Sandy's 9,000 journey from Australia to Fort Worth
Sandy grew up in Traralgon, Australia playing Australian Rules Football, which has similarities to rugby.
But he had dreams of punting for a university in the United States.
“Obviously want an opportunity to further develop myself with an education,” Sandy said. “The opportunity to play in front of big crowds and to play Power Five football, it's amazing.”
Sandy worked at a paper mill in Australia with Tom Hutton, who punts for Oklahoma State. After finishing their overnight shift at 6 a.m., the pair carpooled together to train with Prokick Australia, an academy that teaches athletes how to punt an American football.
The pair made the four-hour round trip together three times a week, Sandy said.
“We’ve already got our gear in the car,” Sandy said. “We’d just rotate. He’d drive. I’d drive the next week. Yeah, it was pretty crazy.”
When TCU called, Sandy told WFAA he only had about two weeks to move 9,000 miles to Cowtown and begin his college career as a Horned Frog.
Sandy said his teammates do tease him about his age – “jokes about gray hair, just jokes about being a dad” – but they didn’t hesitate to step up and teach him the game.
“Throughout my whole freshman year, I was still scratching my head at some of the referee's calls and the flags,” Sandy said. “That was confusing for a little while.”
“It's like completely changed me as a person,” Sandy said of his time at TCU. “Fort Worth in general, I love it here. I want to stay here once I graduate.”
Merging two homes
As Sandy thought of a way to give back to his new community in North Texas, he thought of his community back home in Australia: That’s when his nine-year-old cousin, who has autism, came to mind.
“I've seen some of the challenges and stuff that her family has been faced with,” Sandy said. “I thought it was a good way for me to partner with something that's close to home for me, but then something in the Fort Worth community that I could help benefit as much as I could and raising awareness for autism.”
Not only does Sandy donate $20 to the Hope Center 4 Autism every time he lands a punt inside the 20-year-line – he’s kicked 15 so far this year – he also volunteers at the Fort Worth nonprofit once a week.
“We call him our ‘Punter from Down Under,’” Hope Center 4 Autism co-founder Susan Wood said. “The kids just kind of flock to him. It's very fun to watch.”
The Hope Center 4 Autism
The Hope Center 4 Autism provides therapy and academic classes for kids with autism. Wood, her husband and her daughter have been running the nonprofit for 15 years.
“We do outreach in the community. Lots of parent education and family education,” Wood said. “Because autism doesn't affect a child. It affects the whole family.”
In his weekly visits, Sandy has been working with the third, fourth, and fifth graders, playing games like UNO or throwing a football. The kids range in age from 9 to 11 years old.
“It's not just about the Hope Center,” Wood said. “It's about these children having a future and being accepted by the world. He treats them all the same. And it’s amazing.”
Melinda Opitz’s son, Gabe, attends the Hope Center. She told WFAA she’s noticed a difference in her 11-year-old son since Sandy started volunteering.
“With Jordy’s help, (Gabe) likes going outside and being physically active,” Opitz said. “He's even watching the football games on TV and getting into that. It's been a pretty drastic change in our life with (Sandy) being so involved and (Gabe) getting excited about TCU and just getting excited about learning with another adult that's cool and a celebrity. And so he gets excited when he comes to school.”
Donating for a cause
Wood said many people across the country – TCU grads or not – have been matching Sandy’s donations or making their own financial commitments after hearing Sandy’s story.
“We had a lot of struggle during the COVID shutdown, and we had to furlough 17 employees. And it was devastating,” Wood said. “Just rebuilding from as if it were the beginning again. So every little bit counts.”
So far, Sandy has donated $300 (15 punts). But the season isn’t over yet.
“He didn't think that this was very much. And it’s a lot,” Wood said, getting emotional. “I love these kids and I love my job. I have the best job in the world. But I get frustrated because people don't get it. I want more people to understand how amazing these people are. And he gets it. And he's got a reach a lot farther than we ever could have reached because of the love for TCU and because of the love for Fort Worth.”
“We have hope here. Jordy’s giving back to our school and our community,” Opitz said. “It's very important to make that stand out a little bit more: That kindness is all around.”
Want to donate to the Hope Center 4 Autism? Click here.