Wade Lees jokes that he’s close to collecting his pension and that his bones can’t hold the weight they once did. He’ll refer to Maryland football’s freshman placekicker Joseph Petrino as a “good little kid” — which Petrino is, compared to the Terps’ 30-year-old Australian punter.
He’s quick to self-deprecate, but Lees is a valuable piece for Maryland. He earned the Ray Guy Award Punter of the Week honor after averaging 48.6 yards per punt and booming two punts over 50 yards against Minnesota.
And in last week’s drubbing against Rutgers, Lees pinned a career-best five of his six punts inside the 20-yard line, including a 54-yard kick that was downed at the Scarlet Knights’ six-yard line, one of three times Saturday Lees’s efforts pushed Rutgers up against its own goal line.
As he ran off the field, interim head coach Matt Canada and the rest of the bench high-fived Lees for his contributions in shutting down the Scarlet Knights’ offense.
“With the field position battle, we had them pinned in a lot. It’s very hard to call plays inside your 10-yard line,” Canada said. “He is an asset. He is a weapon.”
On the three drives that Rutgers began inside its 10-yard line, the Scarlet Knights gained a total of 44 yards on eight rushes and three pass attempts. They went three-and-out twice and gained just one first down on the other possession.
That helped Maryland mount a 24-point lead at halftime as its defense engulfed Rutgers’ passing threat. The Terps finished with five interceptions and surrendered just 179 yards in the 34-7 win.
“It is a field position game,” Rutgers coach Chris Ash said. “When you start on the two-yard line, it does cut down the play book and the number of calls that you can make.”
Lees is in his third year at Maryland. Before coming to America, he played Australian rules football, which is more like rugby or soccer than American football and requires a level of endurance that a punter doesn’t need. Lees said he would run between 12 and 13 miles per game, focusing more on stamina than strength.
So this offseason, Lees strengthened his legs to add distance on his punts. Lees is averaging 41.6 yards with each kick this year, 2.4 yards more than he averaged in 2017.
And despite booting away about half as many punts as he had during his freshman and sophomore campaigns, he has nearly matched his output for punts within the 20-yard line, with 14 compared to 17 and 20 the past two seasons, respectively. Out of 172 career punts, five have landed for touchbacks while 51 have been downed inside the 20.
Lees’s precision comes from his days playing Aussie rules, which uses drop kicks as long passes between teammates and also requires accurate kicking to score goals.
“I should be able to do that in my sleep to be honest,” Lees said. “If I’m not doing that, I probably shouldn’t be here.”
But Lees said he prefers the booming kicks to the pinpoint ones. That’s why he built up his leg muscles with squats and single-leg dumbbell raises, which has allowed him to employ a more traditional end-over-end punt rather than a rugby-style running start on kicks. His 46-yard effort that wide receiver Taivon Jacobs downed at the two-yard line was kicked straight-on.
“Nothing too heavy that’s obviously going to throw me out,” Lees joked. “I’ve got to watch my bones and my muscles at this age.”
Lees hasn’t ruled out a shot in the NFL — “Who wouldn’t want that paycheck, I suppose?” — if he can perform well enough to garner the attention of scouts. But as a man among boys in College Park, the punter has helped Maryland control the field position battle each time he lines up to kick the ball away.
And for that, Canada is grateful.
“I sure don’t do anything with that guy except sit back there and clap for him,” Canada said. “He’s a weapon.”