When Brad Wing started working with Drew Alleman as his holder, the LSU place-kicker was highly skeptical.
“He was the stiffest holder I ever saw in my life,” Alleman said. “He couldn’t get down.”
The job was something Wing, a native of Melbourne, Australia, had never been asked to do before.
“It killed me to get in that stance at first,” said Wing, an angular 6-foot-3, 184 pounds. “I couldn’t walk.”
A kicker’s bond with his holder has to be as iron-clad. Eventually, trust replaced doubt.
“It’s huge,” Alleman said. “A kicker has to trust his holder like a quarterback trusts his center. We’ve been building chemistry since last year.
“He had to learn about the little things like how to tilt the ball. Every kicker is different.”
Faith in LSU’s untested kickers was hard to come by before the season started throughout the Tiger Nation.
Alleman was replacing Josh Jasper, who earned some All-America honors in 2010. Wing was replacing Derek Helton, a strong punter who averaged 45.7 yards per attempt and famously flipped that bounce pass to Jasper for a first down on LSU’s game-winning drive at Florida last season.
But instead of being a liability, LSU’s kickers have proven to be an asset.
Wing leads the Southeastern Conference with a 44.4-yard per punt average and is the top freshman punter in the nation.
Meanwhile Alleman, after some early issues partially attributed to an injury he suffered in the Tigers’ season opener against Oregon, hasn’t missed a kick since the West Virginia game on Sept. 24. He’s 10-of-12 on fields goals and 38-of-39 on extra points, his only missed PAT against Oregon.
Both players could play critical roles Saturday when No. 1-ranked LSU locks up with No. 2 Alabama (both 8-0, 5-0 SEC) at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., with the prime-time broadcast going out nationwide on CBS.
In a game of razor-thin margins between these two potent teams, punting could prove to be one of the biggest edges in LSU’s favor.
The Tigers lead the SEC in net punting with a 41.1-yard average. LSU has allowed just 7 return yards on 38 kicks.
Alabama sophomore punter Cody Mandell, a former teammate of Alleman’s at Acadiana High School, is 10th in the SEC with a 39.0-yard average. In terms of net punting, the Crimson Tide ranks ninth at 36.4 yards per kick.
“To me, the one position where either team is head and shoulders above the other is the punter,” said ESPN/BCS analyst Brad Edwards. “Brad Wing could be the player of the game.”
Not only does Wing generally kick it far, but he has an arsenal of kicks at his disposal.
Wing has been known in practice to make punts bounce left, or right, on command. He also has a tumbling end-over-end kick that either bounces forward or can often hit and hop backward like a pro golfer’s lob wedge.
Those tumblers are actually a by-product of the kick passes Wing used to make in his boyhood days playing what is known here as Australian Rules Football.
“I can’t imagine any kid growing up wanting to be a punter,” Wing said. “They all want to be Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. In Australia, no one throws the ball.
“I’ve been kicking for 16 years. I can’t throw it to save my life.”
Wing showed he could run against Florida, loping 52 yards on a fake punt for an apparent touchdown. The score was negated when officials ruled Wing extended his wing flaps to purposely taunt the Florida players at the Gators’ 8.
Alleman subsequently came on to kick a 35-yard field goal.
Wing apologized several times for the taunting call, a gesture that no doubt made his mother proud.
Two weeks ago, Wing’s parents, Kathi and David (himself a former punter with the Detroit Lions and in NFL Europe), and his younger brother moved from Melbourne to Baton Rouge. He said having their support means a great deal to him.
“I get to go see them when I want. It feels a lot more normal,” Wing said.
Despite the fact his family is just across town now instead of around the globe, Alleman remains Wing’s wingman.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Drew,” Wing said. “I’d have him kick a game-winner from 55 (yards) if it called for it.”
“Brad has faith in me, and I have faith in him,” Alleman said.
Faith that could be tested in a critical situation Saturday night at Alabama.