Kick in the park goes a long way to landing Aussie at Sam Houston

Lachlan Edwards let fly, and fate took over from there. Legend has it that the Sam Houston State punter picked up an American football for the first time — and booted it for the first time — on Dec. 12, 2012, while goofing around at a park in his native Australia.

A professor at Edwards’ university, Ballarat, happened to be driving by at the time, and just happened to be impressed. He also just happened to have contact numbers for some folks at OzPunt, an Australian punting and kicking academy geared toward finding collegiate scholarships or pro opportunities in the United States. One thing led to another, then another, and …

“I was here six months later,” Edwards recalled, chuckling at the absurdity of it all.

More to the point, he hasn’t looked back. Or a hair out of place. The Aussie punter, a first-team Southland Conference selection last fall, has led the league in punting (42.3 yards per boot in 2013, 44.4 yards in ’14) each of his first two seasons in the States and heads into this weekend’s visit to Abilene Christian second in the circuit at a clip of 42.7 per kick, with a long of 62.

“Usually, we don’t have a field-goal kicker that is going to hit 55-, 56-, 57-yarders,” Bearkats running backs/special teams coach Matt Powledge explained. “So if we’re at the 35 and out, we’re going to just typically try to pin them there and get the defense (on the field). That’s typically how we play it.

“And (Edwards) could be one of those guys that kind of says, ‘This sucks, it’s hurting my average.’ (But) he gets fired up about it, watching those balls, seeing the gunners go down there and placing it on the 5. So he’s done a great job there.”

He’s chill with whatever — which is the sort of mindset you’d expect from a dude who grew up around the beach. At 6-5, 215 pounds, Edwards looks a bit more like a volleyball player or a surfer than a punter. He was reared on Australian Rules Football — he was named to the All-Australian University first team in the sport back in 2012 — and played rugby on his high school team.

“The (American football) is completely different from Australian rules football,” Edwards said. “It’s a lot easier to hit a shank.”

The Aussie rules ball is larger, roughly 29 inches in circumference, and shaped roughly like a bean; the NCAA’s ball is about 28 inches in circumference at the center and 21 inches on the “short” sides.

“The sweet spot is so much smaller on an American football,” Edwards said.

And Huntsville, Texas — population 39,795 as of 2013 — is a heck of a lot smaller than Melbourne. Lachlan said another Aussie native, Matt Foster, paved the road a bit, having transferred to Sam Houston State from Purdue in 2010.

“We’re from the same area, so the connection was already made,” Edwards said. “So I just kind of fitted right in.”

Mostly self-taught with an American ball, Edwards recalled doing some kicking on film, taking some random phone calls at 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. from college coaches, and eventually agreeing to take a flier on eastern Texas.

“The one thing he didn’t have (was) fundamentals and techniques yet,” Powledge said. “That’s where he’s really grown the last two seasons. It’s a matter of learning fundamentals and the techniques and really growing into the power guy that we thought he (could) be.”

Edwards can top out at 5.2 seconds of hang time at close to 60 yards, with or without Mother Nature’s help, dropping a 62-yarder with about 4.8 seconds of hang on Texas Tech in the season-opener.

“Some guys can hit it great in practice, but they can’t do it in a game,” Powledge said. “Either they’re tense, or whatever it might be. But he always does a great job relaxing and just hitting a great ball.”

He’s naturally cool. That and naturally curious. In the Antipodes, the NFL is more of an overnight obscurity, on at odd hours on odd sports channels, the way Aussie Rules Football can sometimes be found here in the U.S. But the signing of native son and former national rugby team star Jarryd Hayne by San Francisco has upped the national interest, said Edwards, who’s also reached out to the most famous Aussie to play in the NFL, former San Diego Chargers punter Darren Bennett.

“So I’m looking to work with him in the offseason to try and get him to hone my skills a bit more,” Edwards said. “Jarryd Hayne, he’s now playing for the 49ers, he was a big-time rugby guy back home, so everyone’s going NFL-crazy back home. It’s just (picking) up recently, it’s gaining popularity.”

Edwards’ popularity is picking up, too — especially with pro scouts. NFLDraftScout.com taps him as the eighth-best senior punting prospect available in the spring of 2016. Powledge says at least 20 NFL clubs since early August have stopped by to ask about the Bearkats’ No. 1 import.

“I would say he’s the highest-rated prospect that we have now for the next level,” Powledge said. “They get really excited. And they see him from film early on this year and they get more excited. So I think the sky’s the limit for him.

“He’s on the radar right now. But I think when more teams can see him, at a pro day, or if he got invited to the (NFL Scouting) Combine or Senior Bowl, I think the more opportunities he gets there, the more opportunities he’s going to get to shine. Because I think he’s really ahead of the game right now.”

Fate, like football, can take some awfully funny bounces sometimes.

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