The Crocodile Punter

Brad Wing

Wing has gained a cult following among LSU fans, as much for his moments away from kicking the football as the times when he punts it away.

Brad Wing said sometimes he has to step back and take a breath, unable to fully comprehend the whirlwind football tour that has been the past few years of his life.

In 2009, the Melbourne, Australia, native hopped on a plane for Baton Rouge, where he was set to live with extended family and enroll in an American high school – which turned out to be Parkview Baptist.

The football thing came quickly from there.

For a left-footed specialist that had spent his entire life playing Australian rules, the idea of American football – from the rules to the pads – was all a bit, well, foreign.

But that mattered little. The son of a one-time NFL punter, kicking a football was in Wing’s blood.

In 2009, he helped get Parkview to the Class 3A State Championship game against Notre Dame, and a couple of weeks later he received a scholarship offer to play at LSU. Wing immediately committed to coach Les Miles, and two months later he signed on the dotted line and officially became a Tiger.

“That was a really crazy stretch for me,” Wing said. “I showed up and my dad told the coach that I could punt, and then I looked up and I was being recruited by LSU and being offered a scholarship to play football in college.”

The only lull in the story comes when Wing redshirted in 2010. This offseason he earned the starting punter spot in Baton Rouge, and then the ride got even more interesting.

“I had no idea what I was in for,” Wing said.

In a sense, Wing has used the past 11 weeks to become one of the first college punters to break into the mainstream. And ironically, it’s been the moments where Wing isn’t kicking a ball that have helped launch his fame.

There was the time when CBS cameras caught Wing posing with a group of female LSU fans for a few pictures – with time still on the game clock. There was fist pumping after perfect punts in Tuscaloosa. There were interviews with the New York Times and USA Today. There’s the accent.

Of course, the most memorable moment came against Florida, when Wing tucked away what was supposed to be a punt and sprinted 52 yards untouched for a touchdown.

Because Wing put his arms out and taunted the Gators before he crossed the goal line, points were taken off the board – for the first time ever as a result of a celebration penalty.

That’s so Wing.

“I think that moment is what people latched on to,” Wing said with a grin. “I felt like I always got noticed because I was Australian. I didn’t know if that is a good or bad thing.

“Then people started recognizing me and talking about me as a punter. I am just thankful for the team, to be honest. I don’t think I would be this successful if I was with any other team.”

The point should be made that while Wing has developed a cult following, the widespread attention comes because of production.

Nobody would get excited about an over-the-top Australian punter if he shanked kicks.

In 10 games, Wing ranks fourth in the SEC in punting with an average of 42.9 yards, 20 times he has downed the ball inside the 20-yard line and 12 times he has kicked it beyond 50 yards. His 73-yard punt against Alabama is tied for the longest in the SEC this season.

For an LSU team that has become synonymous with great defense and special teams, Wing could be considered the team MVP.

“He is a tremendous weapon,” Miles said. “When you play field position and you have a great defense, there is a tremendous opportunity for you to put a team in a long field and make it hard for them to score.”

The most impressive stat: LSU has allowed 12 returns all season for a total of 7 yards – an average return of .58 yards that ranks fourth in the country.

That’s a combination of an accurate leg, lengthy hang time and skilled gunners.

“I’ve been fortunate to have guys like that, and what a weapon it is to have a guy like Brad Wing,” LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said. “It’s special.”

It’s tough for a punter to be loved by a fan base, which is a credit to just how reliable Wing has become.

“You are only out on the field when things don’t go right,” Wing said. “My job is a difficult one. I am happy to go out there and have the offense’s back and try to set the defense up for a great field to stop them.”

What’s also made Wing special is his ability to get past a bump in the road.

After he shanked a punt against Alabama, Wing returned and delivered the 73-yard kick that flipped the field in the fourth quarter of a taut battle and changed the pace of the game.

“The most important kick is the next kick, not the previous kick,” he said. “Punting is all about consistency, and punters and kickers are deemed head cases by a lot of people, and fairly so.

“So, it’s one snap and clear.”

The son of a punter, Wing said his only hope is for the good fortune to continue – for the Tigers to go on and win a national championship, first and foremost.

No matter where LSU finishes, the end for Wing likely isn’t coming anytime soon.

“It’s my life,” Wing said. “I’ve been doing it ever since I was 3 years old.

“(My dad) always says he would outkick me back in the day, but I don’t know about all that. He is very proud of what I have accomplished, and he knows the hard work I have put in and the sacrifices I have made. As an 18-year old kid to get up and leave everybody and move over here by myself, that’s a pretty big risk.”

In the not-so-distant future, that risk could lead to Wing becoming the second member of his family to wear an NFL uniform.

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