It’s Specialists Week at Testudo Times. This is the final week of our summer position preview series, which has already covered the quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, offensive linemen, defensive ends, defensive tackles, linebackers and defensive backs. Yesterday, we looked at Maryland football’s kicking situation. Now it’s time to discuss the 30-year-old punter.
Wade Lees, No. 88
Weight: 201 lbs.
Hometown: Melbourne, Australia
Previous school: Box Hill Senior Secondary College
Lees’ life has seen plenty of ups and downs so far. He dropped out of school at age 17 and split time between playing football and working construction. He became a promising Australian League Football player, but was suspended in 2012 for 18 months when he purchased (but didn’t take) a weight-loss supplement that contained a banned substance.
After struggling to revive his career, he decided to explore options in the United States with the help of ProKick Australia, whose history of success includes former Maryland kicker Brad Craddock. Lees, then 27, committed to the Terps in December 2015. He was the third-oldest player in the FBS last season at 29, and will compete this season at age 30.
He’s been Maryland’s starting punter since day one, and ... well, he’s gotten a lot of game reps. Lees sent off 72 punts as a freshman and 64 as a sophomore—that’s 5.5 and 5.3 per game, respectively—which says more about Maryland’s offense than anything. He averaged 39.8 yards per punt in 2016 and 39.2 last year.
Lees has been more valuable than his averages suggest, though. His kicks are rarely returned and he excels in pinning teams deep. Last season, 30 of Lees’ punts were fair caught and only 13 returns were attempted (for an average of 11.2 yards). He had 17 punts finish inside the opposing 20-yard line but only two touchbacks. That’s a net average of 36.3 yards, which ranks more favorably than the simple yards-per-punt number.
Although he’s closer in age to a lot of the coaching staff than to his youngest teammates, Lees is only entering his junior season, which means he’ll be around for two more years. It doesn’t look like the Terps have any plans to spend a scholarship on competition for him. He’s one of 28 on the watch list for the Ray Guy Award, given to the best punter in the country.
It’s worth pondering how much Lees can improve going forward, as most punters his age are entering the later stages of pro careers. There’s still room for more consistency; he’s had some booming punts, but they’ve been few and far between. Maryland finished 116th in the FBS in S&P+’s punting success rate last year, which seems unfairly low but emphasizes that Lees hasn’t made this a position of strength. He’ll need to raise his game if he wants to make it one.
Maryland has two players listed as both a kicker and a punter: senior Matt Barber and freshman Bentley Faulkner. The former joined the Terps last season after spending 2015-16 at Pitt; the latter came aboard this summer as a preferred walk-on. Faulkner was a 3.5-star recruit in the Class of 2018, per Kohl’s Kicking, so he seems like the more likely backup option.
DJ Durkin and the staff always stress competition, and that’s led to a series of changes at kicker in his tenure. But Lees has remained a constant at punter and isn’t going anywhere. The Terps will hope he can make this season his most productive yet.