Wing, Williams have Aussies ruling BCS title game
NEW ORLEANS (AP)
Brad Wing told his friends back in Melbourne to Google ''Tiger Stadium.'' Jesse Williams tried to explain what college football is like to his pals in Brisbane by describing what Tuscaloosa, Ala., is like on an autumn Saturday.
''I wouldn't say crazy, that's a little mean,'' he said. ''On another level, definitely.''
Wing is the brassy freshman punter for the top-ranked Tigers, the kid who grew up playing Australian Rules football and dreamed of making it big. Williams is the mammoth defensive tackle for the No. 2 Crimson Tide, the guy covered with tattoos and sporting a Mohawk whose soft voice and thoughtful demeanor manage to put people at ease.
They don't know each other, except by reputation, but they've earned quite a following back home, where the game will be aired to an audience that still views American football as a novelty.
''I don't think it'll ever happen again,'' Wing said, ''and I'm not sure if it's ever happened before. It's sort of a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It's crazy to have two Australian kids playing in the biggest game in American sport. It's really good for Australia.''
Wing's introduction to the game came through his father, David, who was a high-level Australian Rules football player and once tried out for the Detroit Lions as a punter.
The elder Wing was coaching for the Sandringham Dragons, one of the clubs in the feeder league for the AFL, the most widely followed competition in Australia. His son was just a sprightly fellow on the youth team, but his talent for delivering accurate, booming kicks had already started to emerge.
It was the rest of the game that Wing struggled to grasp, though. Soon it became evident that no matter how good of a leg he had, his ability would only take him so far.
''He realized very quickly there's not much point being a pauper, kicking around a country town for a hundred bucks a week and saying, `I'm a professional footballer,''' said the Dragons' regional manager, Wayne Oswald, who has followed Wing's career across the Pacific.
Wing knew his father tried to make it as a punter, so he figured, ''Why not try it myself?''
Some family friends in Baton Rouge, La., agreed to host him for his final year and a half of high school, but it was still difficult to move. Even now, he admits there were many nights he wondered whether he had made a mistake. It wasn't until he was punting for Parkview Baptist High School that he felt more at home, right about the time he was catching the attention of LSU coaches.
''It wasn't easy as an 18-year-old kid to pick up and leave Australia, my brother and all my friends,'' Wing said. ''It wasn't an easy decision, an easy time in my life, to leave everything and come over here. It wasn't an easy time. But with the support I've gotten, it's been really good.''
Indeed, Wing may have felt lonely during those early days in America.
He's surely not feeling that way anymore.
His parents joined him a few weeks ago, uniting the family again. And he's become part of a much larger extended family: the 90,000-plus who pack Tiger Stadium to watch LSU play.
''It's been difficult to explain to my friends the magnitude of college football, and definitely LSU football,'' he said. ''I just have to tell them to Google `Tiger Stadium' and they get the idea.''
Wing played a big role in the Tigers' overtime victory over Alabama in November, unloading a 73-yard punt that flipped the field position in a nip-and-tuck game. But that only added to his almost mythic stature. He's achieved notoriety for a taunting penalty that cost the Tigers a touchdown, and has been known to stand up to beefy defensive linemen if they get in his face.
''He was always cheeky, but he has the right manner with his cheek. He's a bloody fun kid,'' Oswald said. ''A very determined young man with a lot of self-belief, but no arrogance.''
In that respect, he's a lot like the Crimson Tide's Australian import.
Williams played rugby and basketball growing up in Brisbane, but was coaxed into playing football by his friend, Lachlan McIntyre, who played quarterback for a club team called the Bayside Ravens.
''He was a monstrous kid for a young fella, but a bit of a shy, gentle giant-type,'' recalled Ravens coach Steve Box. ''He hadn't played much contact sport, only really basketball, but it clicked.''
Despite just 600 or so players in the Queensland state league, some coaches from the University of Hawaii caught wind of the burgeoning defensive tackle. Williams initially planned to play for them, but there was a falling out and he landed at Arizona Western, a junior college in Yuma, Ariz.
Williams was so dominant his first season there that it seemed every major college coach was at his door. He ultimately chose Alabama, though he admitted he'd rather eat Vegemite than barbecue and was still plenty naive about the enormity of football in the South.
''It's hard to explain that every weekend I play in front of 110,000 people,'' Williams said with a hefty shrug. ''Some of my friends hardly believe what I do.''
Even his father had a hard time believing it.
''Unless you've been there,'' Arthur Williams said, ''I couldn't describe it to you.''
''Every boy on his team is a potential multimillionaire,'' added the elder Williams, who visited earlier this season and who plans to invite friends and family to his home on Tuesday in Australia to watch the BCS championship game on television.
Williams' father was born in India to an American dad and a Burmese mother, and moved to Australia in the early 1970s. His mother is a Torres Strait islander, and Williams has already been earmarked as a role model for indigenous kids in Australia.
''A lot of people in Brisbane, a lot of indigenous people for sure, have noticed. `Hey, this guy is doing something,''' Arthur Williams said. ''Bit by bit, he'll get recognition. It could be from the NFL. I'd be very disappointed if he didn't become a top-20 pick in the NFL when he's ready.''
So would a lot of folks in Tuscaloosa.
Just as Wing has become a folk hero in Baton Rouge, Williams has engendered quite the following around Alabama's campus. He's routinely stopped for photos and autographs, even though he tries to lie low, something that's nearly impossible given his imposing appearance.
Not only is he 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds, but Williams' body is covered by all manner of tattoos. He has entire paragraphs in intricate script running down his left forearm, and a smiley face on his right earlobe. Tribal symbols and scrolling artwork cover wide swaths of skin. The tattoo on his right hand reads, ''I stopped checking for the monster under the bed when I realized the monster is me.''
But it's the one on Williams' meaty left shoulder, part of a note written by his father when he decided to play football in America, that may best describe his journey.
Wing's too, as it turns out.
''He grew into a proud young man, a determined breed he left his land. Put down his spear and hung up his shield, and became a warrior on the football field.''
AP Sports Writer John Pye contributed to this report.