Fans favor Wing

BATON ROUGE, La. -- On a team full of nationally known college football players, LSU's Brad Wing has become a rock star.

He's celebrated not only for his on-field success as a first-team All-American as a true freshman, but for his charisma, for his exotic nature -- he's a rare Australian in the quintessential American game -- and for the way he plays the game with a certain flare that speaks to his audience.

"But I have to be real honest with you," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I like him a lot better as a punter [than as a rock star]. I don't know if he can play music worth a damn."

A punter?

Yeah, a punter. Brad Wing is LSU's resident cult hero from the most unlikely of positions.

But he's a punter who played no small role on a team that reached the BCS national championship game in no small part by playing the field position game better than any team in college football. It was a role where he was a pivotal piece, booming kicks to get his own team out of a hole, or killing kicks to put opposing offenses' backs to the wall.

For this, he's celebrated. But he knows it's not all about him.

"So much goes into this," Wing said. "We have a lot of work to do, but I have faith in my guys."

And that's what makes this fall interesting for Wing. He is the one key piece in a punting unit that has a new snapper (true freshman Reid Ferguson) and new players at the gunner positions, the players who are most likely to first confront the punt returner or make it downfield to down the ball (it was one of many roles Tyrann Mathieu excelled at a season ago).

Wing knows well that while he got more glory than any college punter can even imagine getting last season, it was built on the back of a successful punt team. If he's a rock star, he had a heck of a band playing with him that must be replaced.

"I would not have had the year I had last year without those guys," he said, specifically addressing 2011 gunners Mathieu and Ron Brooks (now with the Buffalo Bills). "But we'll have some guys to fill those spots."

At the heart of the success of last year's punt team, of course, was the talented left foot of Wing. He boomed punts at a 44.4-yard-per-punt clip last year while getting a whopping 27 of 59 punts downed inside the opponents' 20 (versus only five touchbacks). The mere fact that he's left-footed worked to his advantage because he said returners hate trying to read the spin of the ball coming off a left foot.

That's just a small part of his stardom.

His exotic, Aussie style of punting allows balls to die where he wants them to die, or boom when he wants them to boom. He's also the punter who can run 52 yards for a touchdown on an uncalled fake against Florida, only to have it called because he -- a punter! -- was caught taunting the Gators on the way to the end zone.

All this in one remarkable freshman season.

Asked if he's ever seen a punter become a star so quickly, Miles said "No, no. Of course, this is the first Australian, too. Maybe after he passes on and goes on to other things, maybe the next Australian will have that same penchant."

And there will be others. So convinced that Australians -- whose Aussie version of football requires a lot of punting, often on the run and often placing the ball in specific spots, a skill that translates to downing punts inside the 20 -- are THE source for great punters, special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said, "I've always said, if I was going to recruit a punter, I'm going to Australia," and he's followed through, signing Australian Jamie Keehn in the 2012 class.

LSU is certainly satisfied that the ability of the punter is not a question.

The rest of the unit? That's been a priority.

Reliable snapper Joey Crappell was replaced by Ferguson, who was given a scholarship specifically to snap after developing under the tutelage of long-snap guru Chris Robio in high school

"I just have to add water and stir," McGaughey said.

As for the gunners, Wing singled out wide receiver Jarvis Landry as one to watch. Another is safety Micah Eugene, who Miles said has ball-hawking instincts reminiscent of Mathieu. Landry figures to start on offense while Eugene will be a top defensive reserve. But in LSU's world, key players are often also key contributors on special teams.

After all, after the beautiful music played by its rock star punter last season, the Tigers are looking for an encore performance.