Before the Tigers huddle up and roar back to the locker room following pregame warmups, sophomore punter Brad Wing becomes their focal point, booting a punt from the shadows of Tiger Stadium’s north end zone.
Wing is used to the spotlight, earning praise for a stellar freshman season and drawing a cult following for his Australian roots and personal foul antics.
His 2012 season has more closely resembled one of his familiar end-over-end kicks: constantly turning and unpredictable.
After a slow start to the season that was marred by an early leg injury and heightened expectations, Wing has returned to the form that made him an All-Southeastern Conference selection last fall.
Since the calendar turned to October, Wing has turned in four of his best performances, averaging 45.5 yards per punt and pinning eight punts inside the 15-yard line.
“I’ve been much happier lately with the kicks,” Wing said. “I’m never truly satisfied with what I do, but earlier this year was rough.”
He’s now a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award, annually given to the nation’s best punter, and has booted his season-longs of 65 and 64 yards, respectively, against Texas A&M and Alabama.
September and the South Carolina game weren’t as glamorous.
His early numbers weren’t far off his 2011 average of 44.4 yards per punt — that’s also his 2012 average — but punts were rolling into the end zone instead of pinning opponents deep.
Sophomore wide receiver Jarvis Landry, a gunner on punt coverage, said those touchbacks often had more to do with the coverage team than Wing.
“That’s just him putting too much pressure on himself, because he’s definitely one of the best in the country,” Landry said. “There were some instances when we were still working out a rapport with him and not getting in the right spot fast enough.”
Wing is still his own harshest critic, often taking to Twitter after performances he perceives as poor to apologize and pledge to play better next time.
He said the early struggles brought out criticism he was unaccustomed to, but the toughest part was dealing with himself.
“There were critics, and rightfully so,” Wing said. “I can’t control that. It was frustrating for myself, knowing what I’m capable of and not reaching that. That’s the real pressure.”
According to Wing, there was another, simpler explanation for his tumultuous season: the weather.
Wing said he hasn’t been as “fortunate” with the wind conditions with so many home games this year.
“Tiger Stadium is one of the worst stadiums for wind — so unpredictable,” he said. “It will come in and swirl around and turn another way on you quickly. It’s changed a lot on me this season.”
LSU also switched footballs this season, which senior kicker Drew Alleman said threw both him and Wing for a loop.
The Tigers formerly used balls from a now-defunct Vietnam factory, but now use Nike Vapor Elites.
Wing’s journey through the 2012 season has largely mirrored that of Alleman, who also came off a lauded 2011 campaign and has been erratic this season.
Alleman said the two have related through that, helping each other in practice and adjusting to some doubt together.
“I punted some, so I know the technique and I’ll try to keep on him with his form,” Alleman said. “We go back and forth like that, sort of like coaches to each other.”
Despite some cracks in Wing’s armor early this season, the routine doesn’t change.
Wing will still drop back to punt underneath the goalposts before each game, the Tigers will still congregate with ferocity after the kick lands and Wing will still look toward the student section.
Looking back on Wing’s past month, Landry said the kicks still look majestic.
“There’s a trust there with him, always,” Landry said. “He’s going to continue helping us change field position and pump us up. That’s the expectation.”