Wade Lees will be a 31-year-old punter for UCLA this season | Nation


LOS ANGELES – He wouldn't be right here now if just one factor didn't go so fallacious.

The again issues of his single mom that required 5 surgical procedures and compelled him to drop out of highschool to get a job putting in utility pipes.

His Australian soccer suspension guidelines by ordering a fats burning product that contained traces of a prohibited substance.

His college teammate died of warmth stroke and his coach was positioned on indefinite go away solely to be reinstated and fired the following day.

All this led Wade Lees to UCLA, and that’s the solely factor that mattered when the 31-year-old was on the sting of a driving vary and contemplated his unlikely ultimate college season.

"There's just a little story behind that," Lees stated this week with a wry smile. "I had no intention of even coming right here."

The switch of graduates from Maryland, who’s believed to be the second oldest participant in main school soccer, arrived in Westwood this summer season with what may very well be thought-about his most zigzagging journey.

Lees has been round for thus lengthy that his Terrapins teammates known as him "The Godfather", referring to him being a decade older than some gamers and virtually as outdated as some coaches throughout his three years in Faculty Park, Maryland.

His new teammates haven’t given him any grief in an excellent temper, though the one Bruin born when Terry Donahue was nonetheless coaching the group may wish to stick himself to the chance.

"I really feel like I’ve to satisfy another person," stated second-year quarterback Austin Burton, "earlier than making a joke on an outdated man."

Lees is aware of what it’s wish to be on the different finish of the spectrum, after having performed Australian soccer with the 30-year-old youngsters. If issues had labored because the Melbourne native initially anticipated, he would star within the Australian Soccer League.

He’s now competing for a chance within the NFL after altering faculties for his ultimate audition.

The demise of Jordan McNair of Maryland final yr and the ensuing turmoil that led to the dismissal of coach DJ Durkin created an ungainly uncertainty.

Lees was additionally seeking to transfer to Los Angeles as a result of it’s nearer to dwelling and may very well be a profitable touchdown place if it doesn’t attain skilled soccer.

"It's like that is the mecca of the whole lot right here," Lees stated, stating the probabilities within the leisure business.

His nice alternative as a possible UCLA beginning participant got here on account of Stefan Flintoft's departure after final season.

Lees brings spectacular credentials, as he has appeared twice on the watch record for the Ray Man Award that goes to the perfect school participant within the nation. He began a 67-yard clearance in opposition to the state of Michigan final season and accomplished a go for a primary try at false clearance through the Terrapins' offense in opposition to the state of Ohio that fell brief in additional time.

Lees is left-handed however can kick with any foot and has realized to kick the normal spiral along with rugby type with its evil twist that may be troublesome to catch.

"You’ll be able to deploy to the left and kick the whole lot to the fitting," stated UCLA catcher Jaylen Erwin, one of many group's clearance gamers. "Then he is aware of the best way to play little thoughts video games with us."

Lees was as soon as a prospect for the AFL earlier than Australian customs in 2012 intercepted a package deal containing a US fats burner that Lees stated he ordered to cut back pores and skin folds after gaining weight after surgical procedure . The complement contained a prohibited steroid and the authorities suspended Lees for 18 months regardless that he by no means took it and stated he didn’t comprehend it contained an unlawful substance.

His curiosity in American soccer awoke the next yr throughout a visit to the US after driving to Tampa, Florida, to observe an NFL recreation between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Lees had no means of understanding that day that Eagles coach Chip Kelly would ultimately turn out to be his coach at UCLA.

When Lees watched a university soccer recreation on tv the identical weekend, he noticed former Australian guidelines participant Cameron Johnston enjoying for the state of Ohio earlier than 105,000 followers.

"I believed, man, I wish to do that," recalled Lees, who was 25 on the time.

It was not going to be straightforward. Lees despatched a Fb message to Johnston, an acquaintance who related him to Nathan Chapman, the proprietor of an Australian kicking academy who had helped ship numerous punters to American universities.

Lees skilled with Chapman for greater than two years as a part of a dizzying existence. He helped care for his mom and labored full time in his building work whereas attempting to acquire college eligibility after he had lengthy deserted highschool.

The search would indicate acquiring your normal equivalence diploma and finishing college programs, if you happen to may discover a college that may settle for it.

He was rejected by three faculties earlier than lastly enrolling at Deakin College in Melbourne after selling his life expertise as an Australian guidelines participant to enter a sports activities administration program. His research typically saved him awake till four within the morning.

"He has taught me rather a lot about life," Lees' mom, Kim Richardson, stated throughout a phone interview from his dwelling in Cairns, Australia. “Something can occur, you by no means quit, you by no means let it go. The doorways shut, you continue to discover one other one to open. ”

Lees' mom initially thought that she meant to play when she stated she needed to clear as a result of the phrase means betting on the results of a profession in Australian jargon. He defined his intentions and confirmed his abilities to his mom and his future spouse, Caitlin, after they helped him practice by feeding a ball throwing machine put in within the yard and chasing his puns at a neighborhood park.

Lees had sufficient preliminary curiosity from Michigan and Clemson earlier than Maryland supplied a scholarship. Lees arrived at Faculty Park earlier than the 2016 season as a 28-year-old freshman, which induced some beards that haven’t adopted him all through the nation.

"A couple of occasions in Maryland, you had caught just a little right here or there for being older," Lees stated, "however I haven't had something from these guys (at UCLA). These guys need to do with the ball."

Lees discovered an house about 15 minutes from the campus he shares with Caitlin. The couple married in Hawaii final month, however the boyfriend interrupted the honeymoon in three days so he may resume exercises together with his new teammates.

Wade stated: “Thankfully, she was understanding. However I promised a visit to Mexico or one thing like that on the finish of the yr. "

Caitlin stated: "I'd higher be good at it."


Australian gamblers have turn out to be so frequent in school soccer that Lees ought to solely look by way of town to seek out one other. He’s Ben Griffiths, a 27-year-old USC crimson shirt freshman from Melbourne who has hung out on the seaside together with his countryman. Lees can also be a buddy of James Stefanou of Colorado, who at 32 is the oldest participant in school soccer.

However solely Lees has handed from abandonment for the one time on the verge of getting 4 college levels. He earned a bachelor's diploma in communications from Maryland and is finishing a web-based sports activities administration diploma from Deakin. He additionally has a grasp's diploma in administration and enterprise from Maryland and is finishing one in training at UCLA.

"It's loopy to consider the place it began and all of the obstacles that bought in your means," Caitlin stated. "Now we’re right here, and who would have thought?"


© 2019 Los Angeles Occasions

Go to the Los Angeles Occasions at www.latimes.com

Distributed by Tribune Content material Company, LLC.


PHOTO (for assist with pictures, name 312-222-4194): FBC-UCLA-PUNTER

Supply hyperlink

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.