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Brad Wing's All Grown Up
Brad Wing said he has turned his life around after the birth of his child and after looking at the end of his professional career while sitting out what would've been his rookie season last year. A "rock star" personality isn't normally associated with punters, but that was Wing at LSU, where he set records and was a major factor in a 9-6 overtime win over Alabama in 2011. But he was kicked out of school after brushes with the law, failed drug tests and a bowl-game suspension. And then he wasn't drafted before the Philadelphia Eagles signed him and cut him. Wing was down to his last chance to make a living as a punter when Steelers GM Kevin Colbert signed him this past winter. Colbert said he really didn't do a character assessment of Wing, either. "No. Brad got married recently. He has a child," Colbert said at the combine in February. "Players mature as the years go on. If we weren't comfortable with his character we wouldn't have signed him." "Kevin Colbert knows my dad," Wing explained last month with a mischievous grin. "He cut him when he was in Detroit actually. So maybe our family history had something to do with it." Colbert chuckled at the memory from 1990. He was in his first year as the Lions' pro scouting director and the team had signed punter David Wing at the urging of its special-teams coach, the late Frank Gansz. "Gansz was way ahead of the curve with the wave of Australian punters," Colbert said. But David Wing didn't make the team and went back to Australia to play American football. He also spent the 1998 season with the Scottish Claymores of the World League. His son, Brad, played Australian Rules Football in high school in Melbourne, but was cut from the program in 2008. With one year of high school remaining, Brad went with his father on a tour of American cities, which included a stop in Baton Rouge to visit one of dad's friends. While there, Brad attended a New Orleans Saints game and thought he could do well as a punter. So he moved to the states to finish high school. At a Parkview Baptist High School game, he was spotted by the wife of LSU coach Les Miles. Miles followed up on Wing at a kicking camp and offered him a place with the Tigers. At LSU, Wing became known for both good and bad, as illustrated by his 52-yard touchdown run off a fake punt against Florida that was called back because Wing turned to taunt the Florida defense while going into the end zone. His game three weeks later against Alabama became his milestone, but his "rock star" personality eventually became the millstone around his neck. Signed by the Eagles after being booted out of college, Wing was cut last August and sat out the season before the Steelers signed him last Jan. 3. "I'm just fortunate they gave me the opportunity because a lot of that stuff IS behind me," Wing said last month during OTAs. "Now all I want to do is be the best punter for this team possible and help them win games." Wing will be challenged by April signee Adam Podlesh, an eighth-year veteran whom the Steelers liked in the 2007 draft. After Podlesh was drafted early in the fourth round, the Steelers traded up to draft the only other punter on their draft board, Daniel Sepulveda. Even though the Steelers have signed a veteran, Wing believes he'll win the job. And he even asked this reporter in the middle of one practice about the team's net punting record. A week later during an interview, Wing tried to be more modest. "First thing is to make the final roster, that's the number one goal," said the 23 year-old with an Aussie accent. "But if I'm here, why not try to break the net punting record? I know that's a good team stat. It's not just the punter doing the work, it's the guys around you also. So it's definitely something we'd like to break." Does he feel that confident about making the team? "I do," he said. "I've got good competition in Adam Podlesh. We come out here and we get after it every day. I really enjoy Danny Smith. I respond well with him. Um, I think I'm in a good spot, a better spot than I was last year in Philly." Smith, the Steelers' special-teams coach who oversaw a 35.7 net punting average, the team's lowest since 2008, was asked if he had any apprehensions about Wing's reputation. "I don't have any expectations when he comes in and I don't form any opinions, to be honest with you," said Smith. "I deal with the players as they deal with me when we get them here. And everything has been super. I mean he's a great kid, he's got great work habits, he's got a good work ethic. I've enjoyed working with him. I really have. And that's what I go by." Could Wing help the Steelers set the team record? "Oh I don't make any of those predictions," Smith said. "We've got to be better, I can tell you that. And we will." Wing said that after he was cut last year he continued to work out ever week, and, "I'm more comfortable," he said. "This is my second camp so I sort of know what's going on a little bit more than I did last year. I just feel more comfortable." Wing doesn't look like the typical football bad boy. In fact, he looks more like Justin Bieber without the tattoos. "You can't always believe everything you read," Wing said. "But, you know, all of that stuff, that was probably two or three or four years ago when I was a younger kid in college. I probably made some poor decisions back then. But I'm really focused now. I've got a clear vision on what I want to do and where I want to be. Um, I tell you what, I'd love to be in Pittsburgh for an extended period of time." Wing agreed that seeing the end of his career flash before him made him grow up in a hurry. "I think that had a big part to do with it. I sort of had worst-case scenario last year in getting cut and not playing the whole year. And also, I've got a young son, a 14-month-old, so like you said, it forces maturity. You don't really have any other option than to get your head down and go to work. So that's what I'm doing now. And it's good, man. I'm really happy that I still have the opportunity in front of me." Did he ever find the statistic for which he was searching? "The record's 39 yards," Wing said. "So we're trying to break 40. That's what we're going after."
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