NEW ORLEANS -- With every bomb LSU punter Brad Wing launches from his left foot, the American football culture gap shrinks in Australia.
The freshman’s meteoric rise this season has a nation in his birth land captivated by a sport that still is a little confusing to those back home.
“The way it’s progressing is just really crazy,” Wing said.
Wing, who is originally from Melbourne, Australia, has no one to thank but himself. From his taunting penalty that negated a fancy touchdown run against Florida, to his marvelous 73-yard punt against Alabama that helped put that game in LSU’s favor, Wing has become sort of a national celebrity (both here and abroad) and even the co-face (with the "Honey Badger" himself, Tyrann Mathieu) of LSU football.
Did I mention he’s a punter?
Wing gets girly catcalls when he’s walking around campus and is sometimes the first one noticed in a football posse patrolling Baton Rouge, La. Kicker Drew Alleman said girls even revert to elementary school ways of embarrassingly whispering Wing’s name when he passes by.
His game seems to be on another level on and off the field.
“There are a few people around that are starting to know my face, and I guess that’s a compliment,” Wing said.
No, what’s really a compliment is that Wing now can throw his hat into the ring of random, made up dances, as his premature celebration against Florida inspired a simplistic dance that's safe, effortless and, most importantly, funny to look at.
“It’s a pretty easy dance, but it’s funny as crap,” defensive end Barkevious Mingo said.
But where Wing really makes his mark is back home. Thousands of miles away, Wing’s fame is catching on, even if his hobby is still very foreign to family and friends. Wing said people in Melbourne are slowly starting to understand American football because of the airtime he’s getting in Australia.
Wing said six or seven of LSU’s games have been broadcast live there, and it’s helping to increase American football’s popularity. Some are still getting lost in translation with the sport, Wing said, and he still has to explain to a few of his brother’s friends that he’s playing in college, not the NFL.
Wing might have reached celebrity status in college football, but you wouldn’t know it looking at him. Outside of his slender, nonimposing frame, Wing is extremely humble. It takes his teammates to brag about him. And even then, Wing’s story grows.
Wide receiver Russell Shepard said Wing shows a lot of skill on the football field, but his real talent lies in the rap game.
“He’s in love with Lil Wayne. He loves Lil Wayne,” Shepard said. “He can tell you every Lil Wayne verse that Wayne has written, and he didn’t listen to Wayne when he was in Australia.”
(Any viral video of Wing spittin’ Wayne over his highlights would be YouTube gold!)
In the end, it’s Wing’s foot that jump-started his popularity. He has deadly accuracy and a cannon for a left leg. Wing averaged 44.1 yards per punt, pinned 23 inside the opposing 20-yard line, with 11 landing inside the 10, and had 18 punts of 50-plus yards this season.
Forty-six percent of his punts were downed inside the 20, yet he wasn’t even a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, which is given to the nation’s best punter. He was a first-team All-American, but getting slighted in the Ray Guy race is something Shepard said still eats at Wing.
“He feels like he should have won the Ray Guy Award,” Shepard said. “As his teammates, we feel like he’s the best punter in the country. Brad has a chip on his shoulder, and Brad feels like he needs to show everybody in the world that he is the best and why he is the best.”
For Wing, talk of accolades and snubs can wait. He isn’t focused on impressing; he’s focused on winning on the biggest stage of all: the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.
“We’re still on a journey,” he said. “This season is not over. We’ve got one game left, and this game has been in our sight for the whole year.”