Long, strange trip: How Jets punter Lachlan Edwards got to NFL

WATCH - Quickfire questions with Lachlan Edwards (0:50)

Peanut butter or Vegemite? Favorite cricketer? New York Jets punter Lachlan Edwards is hammered with some quick-fire questions. (0:50)

The man who could soon become the busiest punter in the NFL has some planning to do.

Lachlan Edwards is preparing for his parents' first trek to the United States from Australia to watch him play in an NFL game, and the New York Jets' punter is putting the finishing touches on the itinerary.

"The farthest they've been is Nashville," Edwards said of his mum and pop, who plan to take in Weeks 3 and 4 of the NFL season when the Jets play home games against the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars. "I'll show them the 9/11 Museum, the Statue of Liberty. A Broadway show, that's for sure. Times Square.

"I want to give the New York experience without overwhelming them."

If they are indeed overwhelmed, who could blame them? Who could have possibly foreseen this life for Edwards?

Some players spend a lifetime trying to make it to college, much less the NFL. Edwards needed six months.

Five years ago, Edwards picked up an American football for the first time at a park at Ballarat University near Melbourne; smaller and less round than an Australian Rules Football ball, Edwards said, "it did feel a little foreign."

He was an adept athlete, becoming a 2012 All-Australian University Australian Rules Football player while also excelling at rugby and cricket. But this was an entirely new thing, with a new ball.

"I started throwing it, and that's when I found I was a lousy thrower," he said. So he punted it -- standard for Australian Rules Football, but a specialty in American football -- and it looked good, or at least, he thought it did. He didn't really know what good was considered. One of his professors, Scott Talpey, a professor of exercise science and strength and conditioning, did though and recommended that Edwards investigate an Australian kicking academy that helps get players recruited to American colleges. He sent over some tape, and within six months, Sam Houston State came calling.

Edwards ended up on a couch in Huntsville, Texas, living with two new teammates and trying to understand what "fixin' to" meant. Long-snapper Ken Jones and linebacker Jesse Beauchamp showed him the ropes and introduced him to another outback. He discovered the American South, lived what he thought was going to be the "American Pie college experience," tried barbecue, Aussie meets saucy.

"They taught me the ways of Texas," he said. "I'm talking to people and it's like I'm speaking Russian, and I'm looking at them like they're speaking Russian. We'd just nod and go our separate ways. Finna? Fixin to? Y'all? I say reckon, so that one was fine. I grew up saying reckon, and they understood that."

Pretty soon he was fluent in both Texas twang and punting, and by the end of his freshman season, he'd won the starting job and went on to become an FCS All-American and the Bearkats' all-time leader in punting average at 42.8 yards a kick.

If it had ended at that, Edwards said, it would've been sufficient.

He had aspirations of becoming a high school teacher in Australia, and said he'd give the football thing two years in the United States. Punters sometimes spend years chasing those rare NFL gigs, 364 days of the year devoted to one tryout. Edwards was 21 when he entered college and 24 when he finished, and he knew there was a small window for him to make it as a punter. If he were to return home, that was it. The dream was over.

But late in his senior season, he realized that NFL scouts in town to watch a teammate would sprint over to the special teams area whenever he was punting. He was on the radar, got an agent and an invitation to the postseason NFLPA Bowl, and he thought he had a shot.

But, he said, he was "very logical about it all." Even with his rather limited knowledge of NFL football, he knew punters were drafted rarely, and that the entire league might have four or five job openings a year. He prepared himself for a handful of workouts and perhaps a few tryouts. There was no major draft party.

On Day 3 of the 2016 NFL draft, though, he saw a New Jersey area code pop up on his phone midday, and three minutes later, his name flashed on the television screen.

"I couldn't wipe the smile off my face for a week," he said of being drafted by the Jets with the 235th pick, the third punter selected on the day. He got a phone call from a dad, who was watching the draft at his home in Australia, and mom, who was crying.

Without a punter on the roster, the Jets also signed an undrafted free agent, coincidentally Edwards' countryman in Utah's Tom Hackett, who'd won two prestigious Ray Guy Awards for the nation's best punter. Their competition was over in a hurry, though, and by the third day of training camp, Edwards had seized the position.

So much for returning to Australia.

"I don't take it for granted," he said. "I realize how exclusive this club is. I feel like I'm on borrowed time. I never grew up thinking this was a possibility. I'm gonna run with it for as long as I can."

On a pristine August day in Florham Park, New Jersey, the Jets are grounded.

Christian Hackenberg is sailing passes past his undersized wide receiver corps. Minus Brandon Marshall (to the Giants) and Quincy Enunwa (to a season-ending neck injury), and with a quarterback situation that borders on anarchy, New York is projected to be among the worst offenses in the league. If not the worst. If not historically bad.

Much is going to ride on Edwards' right leg.

"I don't think there's a person in this building that has worked harder in the offseason than Lachlan has," Jets special teams coach Brant Boyer told reporters during the offseason.

To handle the pressure, Edwards has sought counsel in the form of Darren Bennett.

If anyone knows this path and the pressure that comes with it, it is Bennett, an Aussie himself and a longtime punter for the San Diego Chargers. Bennett, who retired in 2005, was named to the NFL's All-Decade team for the 1990s after two All-Pro nods. A former Australian Rules football star, he has become the pied piper of Aussie punters down in San Diego, where his family's home has become a safe haven for those with big legs and bags packed, thousands of miles from home.

The two were connected by a mutual friend, then-Sam Houston State safeties coach Patrick Toney, who knew of Edwards' ability and Bennett's coaching acumen.

Bennett needed but a few glances to know what he was working with.

"He had the tools, he has the leg," said Bennett at Jets practice to look in on Edwards. "A lot of Australians who come over, they have this very difficult leg swing, and it's hard to get them to spiral the ball. Lach doesn't have that. He has that natural American leg swing with that straight, big, flowing leg.

"Genetics enable him to be tall with long levers, and you can use those levers for good, or against yourself."

Bennett is essentially working with a raw specimen -- Lac finished last in the NFL in net punting average last season (37.3) and 28th in yards per punt (43.1).

Although he has had no competition, Edwards must get better to hold on to his job for the Jets, who open the season against the Buffalo Bills. But he maintains an even keel and a heightened perspective.

"It's the ignorance is bliss sort of deal," Bennett said. "He hasn't wished he could do this for 20 years, so it's not bigger than it should be. He handles stressful situations very well. This is just something he does; it's not something he grew up feeling ordained to do."

Added Edwards: "It's so much mental, so much technical, rather than sheer ability. It's something you have to work on every day. It's a constant struggle, a work in progress to stay in the NFL."

Besides, real pressure isn't staying in the NFL.

Real pressure is coming up with a shopping list for mom, before she heads stateside in a few weeks.

On the list: Vegemite, the thick, black food spread that Americans often liken to axle grease. "A lot of Americans hate it," Edwards said, "because they don't know how to eat it. They put it on as thick as peanut butter and that'd kill anyone." A case of Aussie beer wouldn't be bad either, although it's doubtful they could get that on the flight.

Even just talking about the trip gets his mouth watering. He misses his family, including his two older brothers, and he only sees them rarely.

"My parents came for senior day in Texas, games at Sam Houston State and Central Arkansas," he said. "There were, combined, maybe 10,000 people. Now they're going to be in one of the biggest cities in the world, watching their son play football."

He breaks into a wide smile, adjusting his Jets cap.

Who would've thought?

Not Edwards.