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By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) —Brad Wing isn’t exactly Nigel “The Leg” Gruff, the weed-smoking, shot-downing, rabble-rousing, gambling kicker in the movie, “The Replacements.” But that’s what some NFL scouts believed. It’s why the talented all-SEC punter from LSU went undrafted.
In a perfect world, Wing, an Australian, should have been the first punter taken in the draft. Instead, he was forced to sign a free-agent deal with the Eagles, competing against Donnie Jones, another former LSU punter who’s a 10-year veteran.
Wing’s checkered, colorful recent past is the reason why he wasn’t drafted. His history includes suspensions for failed drug tests, some fisticuffs that briefly got him in trouble with the law in June 2011, and being told not to return to the Tigers, despite two years of eligibility left.
What’s undeniable is Wing’s talent. He averaged 44.4 yards a punt his freshman year, and last season, he improved that to 44.8 yards a punt. He’s an excellent directional kicker, and his arcing punts have good hang time. But Wing is most noted for, what created an internet, viral sensation was his 52-yard fake punt for a touchdown against Florida in 2011.
As Wing went untouched and undetected down the sideline, he threw a little jazz into his sprint, holding out his arms as he crossed the Gators’ 10-yard line. Wing wound up scoring, but was flagged 15 yards for taunting and the touchdown was negated.
His booming left-footed punts and all of the other accolades are buried by past antics. And that’s exactly where Wing would like to keep them—in the past collecting dust. The Eagles are presenting him a new beginning.
And he realizes that.
“I’m trying to shy away from all of the things from my past,” Wing said. “I didn’t intend to taunt on the fake punt. I was running toward the end zone. I got to the 10-yard line and I knew I was going to get in. A bit excited, I raised my arms a little bit toward a Florida player. I was just excited. I didn’t intend to taunt. I was so excited. Being new to the game, growing up in Australia, I never been anywhere near an end zone. I’ve never been in front of the line of scrimmage, let alone the end zone.
“It was the second time we punted. We got flagged the first time and pushed back, so we had to re-punt. When my PP (personal protection) came back to me, he noticed Florida was taking off to one side. I caught the ball and looked up and saw the same thing. It was so open, there was no way I wasn’t going to get the first down. Coach [Les] Miles never gave me the okay. I was running down the field and Florida had their backs turned. I got a block, and I was about to score the touchdown and I elevated the arms a little—that’s what they flagged me for.”
Wing was mobbed by his teammates, but feared going back to the Tigers’ sideline, where he saw Miles, who strongly urged Wing that if he ever did that again, he better get into the end zone every time. Only, Miles didn’t put it very politely.
He’s been in the United States now for four years.
“I think I’m misunderstood, but I know I’ve obviously made some mistakes in my past and I have to take responsibility for those mistakes,” Wing said. “I think they were maturity things that I was going through at LSU. Those are things that I’ve learned. Here, you have to grow up. You have no option but to grow up. I do think I’m very misunderstood. Everyone likes to have fun, but I am very serious about my business, too. I love punting the football, and I do take that seriously.
“I don’t think people know that side of me a whole lot. They think I’m a crazy Australian kid who likes to have fun and drinks Fosters. That’s not the case. I really, really take my craft seriously. I’m looking forward to show Philadelphia how passionate I am about punting.”
Growing in Australia, Wing played nothing but Australian Rules Football, but he knows American football very well through his father, David, who had a tryout with Detroit and played in the World League of American Football in 1990.
If Wing makes the Eagles, he’s thinking about taking part in a Philadelphia tradition—Wing Bowl. “I heard it’s crazy and I may have to put my name into it,” Wing said. “I wouldn’t even have to change my name to compete.”
He could be Brad “The Leg” Wing.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.