Let’s play a game of Name That LSU Athlete.
This young man picked up punting after getting his kicks playing Australian Rules football in his native country. He played very little of the American game, but showed so much promise that LSU offered him a spot in its signing class. You may know him by his Aussie accent or the No. 38 jersey he wears.
Who is he?
If you answered Brad Wing, you’re only half right.
Jamie Keehn arrived on campus in June with a number of similarities to the punter who last year enjoyed one of the best seasons ever by an LSU specialist. Same Australian roots. Same dialect and jersey number.
“I look at him and I see myself a couple years ago,” Wing said of his potential heir apparent. “The biggest thing he needs right now is just experience and repetition.”
For as long as he wears an LSU uniform, Keehn will likely be measured by the success of Wing, who returns as a preseason All-American in 2012 after averaging 44.4 yards per punt as a redshirt freshman last year.
But as much as he shares in common with Wing, Keehn took an even more indirect route to college football than his more established Aussie teammate.
Wing is the son of a former NFL punter who moved to Baton Rouge after punting in Australia for a couple of months and enrolled at Parkview Baptist for his senior year of high school. Former LSU special teams coach Joe Robinson only had to drive across town to take in Wing’s booming parachutes and offer the Class of 2010 prospect a scholarship.
Keehn graduated high school in 2006. He turned 23 on Aug. 4, making him one of the oldest players on the LSU roster.
Until a year ago, he’d never kicked an American football.
He made high marks in school as a rower and a track and field star, winning two national championships in the javelin and helping his rowing team win one more.
Keehn isn’t built like your typical American punter. He’s 6-foot-4, 220 pounds.
For a while, he envisioned himself an Olympic athlete, but a shoulder injury in 2008 reshaped his future plans.
With an eye on attending college in the United States, Keehn started kicking balls last August for Nathan Chapman, a punting instructor whose Prokick Australia program filters Australian kickers and punters into the American game.
“I had a little bit of an Australian football background,” Keehn said. “Thought I could kick a ball a fair way.”
Chapman worked with Keehn throughout the fall, then shipped film of him to colleges in the States.
Maybe the young man in the videos had only been punting a few months. But LSU special teams coach Thomas McGaughey knew his potential was endless.
“I always said if I had to recruit a punter, I was going to go to Australia,” McGaughey said. “Because instead of growing up throwing the football, the kids there grow up kicking the football. It only makes sense.”
There’s no better proof than the sophomore McGaughey will trot out on fourth-and-long this season.
Keehn said Wing’s success in 2011 helped set up Australian punters like himself for more serious looks from college coaches. Especially since Wing kicked for a team that ranked No. 1 most of the season and played a slew of games on national television.
“It’s crazy what he’s done for LSU and for the sport of American football in Australia, just from a publicity standpoint,” Keehn said of Wing.
But Keehn and Wing had never met until the recruit came to LSU for an official visit in March.
Keehn hails from North Queensland and Wing from Melbourne — about 1,400 miles apart. They became instant “mates,” however, when Wing served as Keehn’s weekend host during the recruiting trip.
“I told him, ‘Don’t rush into any decisions.’ But he committed the next day, so I’m pretty sure he enjoyed the culture,” Wing said.
Now Keehn finds himself working alongside one of the best punters in the nation — a countryman, to boot.
Carrying a similar build, a similar accent, and boasting a similarly strong leg, it’s easy to envision Keehn stepping in for Wing down the road and giving the Tigers similar results.
“Never did I expect to come to somewhere like LSU and play in the biggest, strongest league in the nation,” Keehn said. “I was happy just to come (to the United States) and enjoy the experience.”
Wing said the newcomer’s ceiling is as high as the balls Keehn kicks.
“Once he gets some experience, the sky’s the limit,” Wing said.