The most interesting rookie in the NFL is a 30-year-old, mega-tattooed Australian

 

The most interesting rookie in the NFL is a 30-year-old, mega-tattooed Australian

comment

Now players who developed their kicking skills playing Australian Rules Football while growing up Down Under are a familiar sight in the NFL.

Nevertheless, Lou Hedley stands out – not only because of his striking appearance, but also because of his circuitous route to the New Orleans Saints.

When Hedley steps onto the Superdome field on Sunday, the muscle-bound, mullet-wearing, mustachioed and heavily tattooed 30-year-old will be one of the oldest rookies to begin a season on an NFL team’s active roster. He will also reach the culmination of a journey that began in a tiny town in Western Australia and took shape after many years working as a scaffolder in remote parts of his homeland.

Along the way, Hedley co-owned a tattoo parlor in Bali, Indonesia. After dropping out of school, he went on to play college football – and earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees – at the University of Miami. He wears the same number as former Hurricane Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, which has earned him several praises from the actor/wrestler, and he just added a fight win in training camp as an undrafted free agent to his list of achievements. about incumbent Saints player Blake Gillikin.

“When I look back now, it was all worth it: all the commitment and dedication to leave Australia and come here, to come to a great organization like this,” Hedley told reporters last week after learning he made New Orleans’ 53-man roster. “I can’t wait to get to work.”

The subtle genius of Joe Burrow

When reached by phone at the Saints’ training facility on Monday, Hedley said that while it felt “surreal” to have gotten a job in the NFL, he wasn’t surprised it happened.

“If you don’t come into this building expecting to get the job or wanting to get the job, I think you’re in the wrong place,” he said.

At an age when most of Hedley’s teammates were graduating from college programs, he began making money doing scaffolding work.

“You always wear a harness, but there’s definitely a danger when you’re walking around on pipes, on the top of huge buildings, with gas tanks and things like that,” Hedley said Monday of his previous work. When asked if that job was more dangerous than competing on an NFL field, he replied with a laugh: “As far as other positions in football, I’m sure it’s more dangerous, but as a player, I’m sure it’s scaffolding is the better choice.” .”

At this time Hedley was also playing Australian rules in semi-professional and amateur leagues, as far as he went in a sport he had loved since his early childhood in a small fishing village on the west coast of Australia. After his family moved to suburban Perth, Hedley found more opportunities to play Aussie Rules as a youth, but as he recalled in a 2021 podcast, his devotion to the sport came with the expectation that he would soon join his older brother’s roofing business led to his “turning away” from the academic world.

“Growing up, I had no intention of going to college,” Hedley said on the podcast. “I gradually left school in the 10th or 11th grade. I simply dropped out of school and went straight into working life.”

In Australian regulation games, Hedley primarily played full-back, a position that requires the toughness to cover other teams’ forwards and a big leg to carry the ball back up the field. Although he never realized his dream of making it to the top Australian football league, Hedley attracted attention for his strong kicking skills, leading to suggestions that he should try punting.

That led Hedley to an organization, Prokick Australia, that teaches aspiring players about American football and connects them with college programs. Prokick acknowledges on its website that it has helped 190 of its students receive full scholarships in the United States as of January 2022 and touts six Ray Guy winners. That list includes Mitch Wishnowsky, who now plays for the San Francisco 49ers, and Michael Dickson of the Seattle Seahawks.

In 2019, Prokick co-founder Nathan Chapman told Bleacher Report that when Hedley first arrived at the company’s Melbourne facility, his many tattoos raised serious questions about whether “he had any beliefs or spent time inside.”

“Because if he did,” Chapman explained at the time, “he wouldn’t be able to get a visa or go to America.”

Officials’ concerns about Prokick were soon allayed, but they presented him with another problem: his lack of academic qualifications. This meant that even if he excelled at their academy, he would have to improve his grades at a junior college.

It was already a big decision to leave a comfortable life behind and travel to the other side of the world to play a sport he was largely unfamiliar with, but Hedley also had to put all of his financial eggs in that basket. To afford his two-year stay at the City College of San Francisco, he sold his share of a tattoo parlor in Bali that he had invested in and put the rest of his savings into his ambitious plan.

“I knew if I went to junior college,” he said Monday, “I could get into a pretty big school.”

He did that after Miami offered him an athletic scholarship in 2019. Hedley first went viral this year because he had an intimidating look not typically associated with sports betting athletes. After being named to the All-ACC second team twice and being a finalist for the Ray Guy Award in 2020, he made the first team last year and ranked seventh nationally in net punting.

Miami was so pleased with what it got from Hedley that it replaced him with a countryman, Dylan Joyce.

Hedley, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and weighs 220 pounds, was praised by New Orleans special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi last week. Comparing the Australian rookie to Gillikin, a Penn State product who has put up solid stats over the last two seasons, Rizzi said: “I think Lou probably has a few more tools in his kit, if you will. … A little more variety in the kicks.”

When Hedley was asked Monday if he thought he had more ink than any other Saint, he mentioned veteran running back Alvin Kamara and replied, “There are a few that I could give a run for my money on.” I might top three or four, but we definitely have some tattooed guys in that locker room.”

As for Hedley, he’s entering the league at an unusually old age – just shy of the Guinness World Record for oldest rookie to start an NFL season, set in 2005 by 31-year-old punter Ben Graham, a former Australian rules punter -Star – Rizzi said he has “a lot of respect for the way things are done [he has] took care of that.”

“The biggest compliment to Lou is that he treated himself like any other freshman,” Rizzi added. “He doesn’t treat himself like a 30-year-old, he treats himself like a 21- or 22-year-old, and he went through that rookie process with a really good attitude.”

Will the Arizona Cardinals be historically bad? Don’t bet on it.

Despite his age, Hedley said Monday he could see himself playing in the NFL for a decade if he stays healthy and maintains his level of performance. He cited Andy Lee, an American player who played for the Arizona Cardinals last season at the age of 40.

Hedley added that he hasn’t spent much time thinking about a possible career after the NFL, but said it would be “great” to stay in his new sport in some capacity.

“Whether it’s operations or recruiting… I love walking into a building like this every day,” he said. “I love the game of American football.”

“I feel very blessed to have ended up here,” Hedley continued, noting that his girlfriend is American and his young son lives in Philadelphia. “I’m lucky to be in such a great country like America, and given the opportunities I’ve gotten here – from junior college to college to the NFL – I think I definitely plan to stay here remain.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2023/09/07/lou-hedley-saints-aussie-kicker/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_homepage The most interesting rookie in the NFL is a 30-year-old, mega-tattooed Australian

Previous Post Next Post