College Sports

Dave Hyde: From Australia with tattoos, Louis Hedley’s fame precedes his punts with Miami

Nicole Kidman. Hugh Jackman. Cate Blanchett. Mel Gibson.

Famous Aussies all.

"That's right," Louis Hedley says, nodding.

And now him.

He smiles. "I've done nothing. But it's been crazy."

Crazy? His practice punts bring fans' cheers. Crazy? His walk across campus draws notice. He broke the internet last spring when, at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he posted a head-rocking, tongue-projecting, tattoo-laden, celebratory selfie announcing he was coming to the University of Miami.

"The size, the accent, the tattoos, the big leg, the attitude – all of if fits here," tight end Brevin Jordan said.

Hedley's full-body tattoos don't just made him look like a brother from another continent in some rebel fashion. It also tells of his backstory. He owned a tattoo shop, often sampling the wares. He played Australian Rules Football until that dream died. He lived in Indonesia for a couple years, often in the jungle. He worked construction for five years or six years.

Somehow it doesn't add up to being 24, he's told.

"I quit school early," he said.

Now he's back in school, because a former teammate who got involved with a school exporting Australian kickers to America and said Hedley should give it a try. So Hedley ordered an NFL-certified football off the internet. When it arrived one rainy night, he was so excited he drove to a field, used his car lights to see and began punting.

He hasn't stopped. He got a tryout with the school, ProKick Australia. That led to him moving a across Australia from his native Perth to Melbourne, where the school was located. This "Leg U" was full of hopefuls. It has placed more than 60 kickers into American colleges and four into the NFL.

After six months of legwork, Hedley became the fourth consecutive Australian punter, sight unseen, to attend the City College of San Francisco. The first American football game he saw he played in. This was 2017. He didn't know the rules, much less when to punt.

"I just sat on the bench and waited for them to say, 'Punt, ready,' to get up," he said. "Then I ran on the field and punted."

He sat out last season to preserve eligibility that had dwindled to a year because of his age. Miami ranked 115th in punting and needed a punter. It was a quick connect-the-dots move of signing perhaps the best college free agent out there.

"We needed help," Diaz said. "It was a good fit for us."

For Hedley, too. Defying what he's found most Americans know of Australia, grew up by the ocean, first in a small, fishing town of 700 and then in Perth.

"I get a lot of questions from people who think Australia is red dirt, dust, kangaroos and snakes," he said. "I think they've seen too many Steve Irwin documentaries."

Don't forget Vegemite sandwiches.

"I haven't met anyone who enjoyed the taste of them," he said.

The other common line of conversation: At his size, he should be a linebacker.

"I wouldn't last a day at linebacker," he said.

He's a punter who hopes to remain one. His 18-month-old son lives in Philadelphia with his mother, and Hedley hopes to punt well enough to make the NFL.

"It's something I want to try," he said.

Meanwhile, he's learning not just about punting but the nuances of the Hurricanes. He heard Miami and Florida State was a big rivalry before arriving. Now knows the opening opponent, Florida, also is a rival.

"My first game is a big one," he said.

For the past several months, Hedley has been an intriguing story. "The most intimidating punter you've ever seen," the New York Post wrote. ESPN put up a photo and announcer Scott Van Pelt said, "Swag on a billion." A Perth newspaper headline read, "The U.S. is frothing" over Hedley.

All a little much for a punter, he knows.

"And I haven't even punted yet," he says, adding with a chuckle. "Now I've got work to do."

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