Australia’s Lou Hedley takes the longest route possible to the NFL

Punters are odd cats. But it’s understandable. You’ve got to be a little bit off to spend your entire professional life practicing just one task, over and over … knowing that if you fail to do that one task quickly and precisely, you’ll get pounded into paste.

So punters get a little bit of leeway from the NFL establishment. They don’t need to be brand-friendly alpha dogs like quarterbacks, or singleminded kaiju like linemen, or throw-me-the-ball spotlight hogs like receivers. Long as punters handle their one task three or four times on a Sunday afternoon, they can spend the other 59 minutes doing whatever gets them through the game.

After training camp final cuts, the Saints have themselves a live one now on the roster: Lou Hedley, a tatted, mustachioed, 30-year-old Australian rules football player-turned-viral college punter. There’s no one sure route to the NFL, but there’s also never been one quite like Hedley’s.

The son of a fisherman, Hedley grew up in the tiny town of Leeman down in the southwest corner of Australia. Hedley later took an interest in Australian rules football, a kick-heavy sport closer to rugby than American football. Playing for the Mandurah Mustangs, his talent was undeniable, his gamesmanship and academic diligence, less so.

“I would always try to score a little too much,” Hedley said Tuesday after learning he’d made the Saints’ final roster. “I think I got a little greedy down there.”

He dropped out of high school and went into construction, traveling the continent and strapping himself to scaffolding for mammoth industrial projects. He collected tattoos, too — so much so that he bought into a tattoo shop of his own, Rosemarrie Tattoo in Bali.

The plan, Hedley told Bleacher Report a few years back, was to take the money he’d made working construction to travel Europe and then settle down … somewhere. But he hadn’t quite scratched the football itch, and decided to contact Prokick Australia — an organization dedicated to putting Australian kickers into American universities — to assess his chances.

“I learned about college football, learned about what it was. I’d seen some other Australians [kick in the United States],” he said Tuesday. “I thought I’d give it a crack.”

New Orleans Saints punter Lou Hedley (39) warms up before an NFL preseason football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

The staff at Prokick dubbed him “Breaking,” since his tatted-up body made him like he belonged on “Breaking Bad.” Once the Prokick team realized he hadn’t actually been in prison — which would have killed any chance of getting a visa — they began working on ways to get him into America’s university system.

They arranged for him to go to the City College of San Francisco to get his grades up, and at that moment, the 22-year-old Hedley made the choice that would re-shape his future. He sold his interest in the tattoo parlor, hung up his scaffolding harness, and looked to America.

“I had a pretty good job working construction and scaffold,” he said. “Leaving that all behind — family, friends, the life I had there — once I did that, there was no looking back.”

After a year at CCSF, he jumped to the University of Miami, where he won social media notoriety for his tattoos, his 6-3, 233-pound physique, and his chosen number. Hedley’s No. 94 just happened to be the same number as a former Hurricane player by the name of Dwayne Johnson.

“I wore number 94 because of The Rock,” he told ESPN Australia in 2019. “He was my childhood hero, so wearing his number was pretty surreal.”

“Thanks for rockin’ my #94, @LouHedleyy,” Johnson tweeted in response. “Welcome to the U, keep disrupting and always be the hardest worker in the (MF’n) room.”

Over the course of four years at The U, Hedley averaged 45.2 yards a punt. During his college career, he was named first-team All-ACC, and was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation’s top punter. He went undrafted in this year’s NFL draft, but New Orleans quickly picked him up as an UDFA. It took the entirety of training camp, but he finally won the job over third-year pro Blake Gillikin.

Hedley is the latest member of the Australia-to-the-NFL pipeline, which currently includes San Francisco punter Mitch Wishnowsky and Philadelphia offensive tackle Jordan Mailata.

The Australian press has dubbed Hedley a “superboot,” and that’s as good a nickname as any. He’ll see his first live NFL action next Sunday against the Titans in the Superdome … a long, long way from the beaches of Western Australia.

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