The punter stands 6’4″ and weighs a very un-punter-like 233 pounds. It’s the kind of frame you typically see from a player tasked with inflicting pain or chasing quarterbacks, not booting footballs into the stratosphere.
Tattoos blanket his many muscles and bulges, from his arms to his chest to his torso to the sides of his head and even his nipples. These aren’t just tattoos, either. Collectively, his body is more like a series of portraits weaved seamlessly together.
Capping the distinct look is a fatherly mustache. Add in a neighborly Australian accent, and it was inevitable that 25-year-old Louis Hedley would cause heads to turn in the college football world when he introduced himself as a Miami Hurricane flashing the infamous “The U” hand gesture in this tweet on National Signing Day:
Louis Hedley @LouHedleyy
It’s official!! I’m a cane😍🙌🏽 Thank you to everyone that has helped me get to this point. 🗣LETS GOO!! 3️⃣0️⃣5️⃣ #TNM #BEATUF @CanesFootball @ProkickAus @Coach_MannyDiaz @JohnnyPKA @CoachKalter @CoachKalter @67outlaw @CCSFFootball @tweetiebeattie @richiehedley https://t.co/0kQj7a9Uh4
It wasn’t meant to be an elaborate spectacle. Just a 3-star JUCO punting prospect making his decision official. Within a few hours, though, Hedley went viral and become an internet star.
Now, two months later, with spring football in full swing and Hedley’s arrival on campus in late May fast approaching, the man behind the viral moment is about to become a real presence in the college football world—a redshirt sophomore punting for one of the country’s most decorated programs.
When he debuts, it will be the culmination of a journey unlike any other in college football, and much bigger than the tweet that announced his arrival.
It’s a journey filled with untold hours in the gym and the tattoo chair. A journey that has taken him from the top of a wobbly scaffold in an Australian desert to a tattoo shop in Bali, which he actually owned. A journey that saw him take a leap of faith and give up his former life, enrolling at City College of San Francisco with the hope of one day playing football professionally. A journey now headed for South Beach, with Hedley having only played American football for a few years.
“My goal is the NFL, and at the moment I don’t really have a Plan B,” Hedley tells Bleacher Report. “All my energy’s going into this.”
We begin in a small fishing town off the coast of Western Australia, with the waves of the Indian Ocean crashing up against the shore. It was here, in the small town of Leeman, that Hedley spent the early part of his life.
Hedley’s father, Richie, was a cray fisherman by trade. And as a result, much of his early years were spent on, in or around the ocean. He had a love of Australian rules football from a young age, but because of Leeman’s size, competitive sports leagues were often hard to come by. That changed when his father took a job in Perth, Australia. With more competitive leagues to join, Hedley’s passion grew, and he began to set his sights on playing professionally.
In Australian rules football, Hedley was a fullback—a defensive position that allowed him regular opportunities to kick the ball and showcase the power of his leg.
As the pursuit of playing professionally began to consume him, Hedley’s academics began to slip. As a senior, it became clear he wouldn’t be able to graduate high school, so he dropped out and took a job as a scaffolder.
“I pretty much lived in a harness way off the ground for seven years of my life,” Hedley says. “It was all good fun, and it allowed me to stay fit while I worked. Plus, it was great money and I didn’t have time to spend any of it.”
As a scaffolder, Hedley traveled Western Australia erecting structures for projects. For one, he spent a year working on a gas and oil site at the Wheatstone natural gas plant in Onslow, Australia. Hedley would fly in for a month at a time and scaffold on the coastline, high above the distinct, bright red dirt the area is known for. Then he’d go home for a week, then back.
All the while, the collection of art on his body grew.
He got his first tattoo when he was 15 years old while on a visit to Hong Kong. It was his last name on his bicep. That eventually became a sleeve, and then another sleeve, and then spread to cover his torso and his neck and head and parts of his legs. He didn’t plan to cover so much of his body, but each time he walked into a tattoo shop, he couldn’t resist.
“A lot of the time, I essentially walked into the studio and had a look through a book and chose something,” Hedley says.
Some of the tattoos have special meaning—like the man and woman tattooed to the left and right of a beetle on his throat, which are for his grandfather and grandmother—but most don’t. He says the ones that generate the most response are the UFO abducting the cow on his forearm—one of his personal favorites—or the tattoos on the sides of his head, above his ear, of a panda and the world being held by a giant hand.
Which was the most painful? When his chest was completed, the artist went over his nipples rather than go around. The general thought was that it would look better if he did. “It felt like I was getting electrocuted,” he says.
In 2016, his love of tattoos became a business when he and a close friend became owners of Rosemarrie Tattoo in Bali, Indonesia. Having spent time surfing and exploring Bali, Hedley viewed the purchase as more of a way to escalate a personal interest than get rich. And yes, it meant more, cheaper opportunities to add ink to his body.
When Nathan Chapman first set eyes on Hedley, he wasn’t sure what to think. The head punting coach at Prokick Australia—a kicking academy that has a top reputation for spotting and training punters before placing them in college football programs—saw Hedley and had the first impression countless others have.
“We had to ask if he had any sort of convictions or spent time inside,” Chapman says. “Because if so, he wouldn’t be able to get a visa or go to America.”
For years, friends and Australian rules football teammates had been encouraging Hedley to explore a career in American football. And for years, while curious, he had dismissed the idea. His plan was to take all the money he’d saved scaffolding and travel Europe and perhaps the world.
Then just before he was planning to leave, he decided to at least explore the idea.
He had a successful tryout with Prokick, ditched the Europe plan, quit his job and moved from Perth to Melbourne in 2017 to begin training. Hedley earned the nickname “Breaking” from his Prokick coaches when he arrived—an allusion to his looking like he belonged on the TV show Breaking Bad.
In the past two years, Prokick has placed more than two dozen punters and kickers in Division I schools. Some of these alumni have since graduated to the NFL. And Chapman could see right away that Hedley had the ability and drive necessary to follow that path. But his academic situation complicated matters.
“This was going to be easy from the ability point of view,” Chapman says. “We just hoped he had enough money to get to junior college to get his grades.”
Knowing the cost of having a chance to kick at the level he desired, Hedley gathered all the money he could. He sold his stake in his tattoo shop. And then, having yet to field a snap during a live game or begin to fully grasp the nuances of American football, he traveled more than 9,000 miles and enrolled at City College of San Francisco.
For more than a decade, CCSF offensive line coach Eduardo Nuno has recruited players outside the country.
Born and raised in Tijuana, Mexico, Nuno was once in a similar position. He credits football broadcasts for helping him learn English. Many years later, after going to high school in the United States, Nuno landed a football scholarship from University of Pacific. He experienced firsthand how football can change lives.
And there he was in the airport parking lot, waiting to pick up Hedley from San Francisco International Airport. But Hedley wasn’t there. Going through customs, Hedley had been pulled aside for a closer, secondary inspection—”because of all the tattoos,” Nuno says.
Eventually Hedley made it through the airport. But once he did, there was little time to acclimate himself to his new life. There was less than a month before the team’s first game, and Hedley would have to learn the rules and rhythm of his new sport on the fly.
To save money, Hedley lived in a four-bedroom house with 11 housemates, including John Berard, who became his roommate and close friend as well as his long-snapper at CCSF.
“He’s just a new breed of punter—I knew as soon as he hopped off the plane, a week into practice,” Berard says. “He came in with his short shorts, his Australian style and tats all the way up to his head with a nose ring in.
“He definitely didn’t really know anything about football. Besides tackling and that you wear pads.”
The winds were a massive adjustment for Hedley, which impacted his performance early. He still managed to average nearly 40 yards per punt his first season, but he rarely had an opportunity to showcase a leg that can kick the ball upward of 60 yards.
Despite the less-than-gaudy statistics, college coaches flocked to see him. One of those visits had a direct impact not on Hedley but Berard. He caught Texas Tech’s eye and is now enrolled there.
Hedley redshirted his sophomore year at CCSF to save a year of eligibility and focus on academics. Returning to class after almost a decade away was an adjustment at first, but he ended up earning a GPA well over 3.0.
He also became obsessed with the weight room during that sophomore year away from football. Already large and muscular, Hedley worked out three hours a day. His strength was so atypical that he began working alongside the offensive linemen.
Photo courtesy of Louis Hedley
The combination of focused weight training and a healthy dose of American food—his personal favorite being Wingstop—brought Hedley up to nearly 250 pounds.
After receiving interest from several Power Five programs, Hedley signed with Miami on Feb. 6. A few hours later, his face and supersized, tattooed body was everywhere.
“I thought we were just barely scratching the surface of what he can do because, my goodness, is he special physically,” Nuno says. “I think his best football is obviously still way in front of him.”
At the moment, Hedley is back in Australia preparing. He’s trimmed down from 250 pounds to a leaner but still powerful 233 pounds. Since he’s back home, he’s working with Prokick—still trying to absorb as much punting information as he can.
He’s also enjoying his 1-year-old son, Loki, who changed his outlook on life. While he made up his mind to pursue his degree and American football before Loki was born, fatherhood has only increased his drive.
“Everything I do is for that boy,” Hedley says. “It gets me up every morning. It’s a huge motivation for me, and I hope that maybe one day I can achieve my goal and he can watch me do it.”
When he arrives in Miami in late May, he will once again have to adapt to a new routine. The allure of South Beach and a storied football program trying to find itself once again unquestionably played into Hedley’s decision. As did the fact that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson played for the Hurricanes—an icon of his growing up.
Hedley’s second viral bout came in early April, when he announced he was wearing No. 94 in Johnson’s honor. The Rock responded by showing Hedley love to his more than 13 million Twitter followers.
“The Rock was my hero growing up,” Hedley says. “To think he knows who I am now is really cool. I just hope I get to meet him some day.”
With all the attention he’s received, the question now is how Hedley will perform on a stage unlike anything he’s ever been on. Physically, he will be one of the most impressive punters in the nation—if not one of the most athletic to ever play—but he still has so much to learn.
“He’s got an NFL leg, so it’s really about what Miami decides to do with him,” Chapman says. “But bigger than that, here is a guy who spent two-and-a-half years turning it around and spending a whole heap of money to do so—so much so that if it didn’t work out, he would be out on his arse.”
It’s been a journey no one could have predicted. When this colossal, tattooed Australian punter takes South Beach, the ACC and America by storm, it will have been worth every up and down and twist and viral moment along the way.
Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KegsnEggs.