BEARS SPOTLIGHT: Lenoir-Rhyne Football’s 38-Year-Old Australian Punter

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Hickory, N.C. – In a typical Aussie accent, Hayden Burgiel hails most with a typical Australian greeting, “G’Day mate.”

The new football season has just started and we see several new faces on the Lenoir-Rhyne roster. One that stands out more than others is the six-foot, 190-pound punter, Hayden Burgiel.

The 38-year-old made history by stepping onto the field as the oldest freshmen in America on Thursday, August 31, against West Alabama.

Burgiel joins the Bears from Victoria, Australia, where he has a background in Aussie Rules and played in the Australian Football League.  In 1997, he was drafted by Hawthorn of the AFL. This is the equivalent of being drafted in the National Football League here in the United States, so it was a massive achievement.

The Australian native sees this as a challenge and a great opportunity of doing something that he hasn’t done before. “I really liked learning a new sport and how to play it was exciting for me” Burgiel said. “It was like I was rejuvenated in wanting to play something. With the AFL and the position I play, it’s usually 10 to 15 kilometers (six to nine miles) a game you got to run and I’m starting to slow down in that department.”

The Bears’ starting punter has also gained a lot of inspiration off fellow Australians and went on to say, “meeting players like Sam Irwin-Hill and Jordan Berry, you meet guys like that and they give you their stories and it gives you goose bumps.”

One might see it as strange that college football teams would recruit an Australian, but as Lenoir-Rhyne Special Teams Coach David Cole said, “the fad right now in American Football is rugby style punting and obviously those sports are really big in Australia so the transition between sports is pretty seamless.”

People might see the recruitment of a player of limited experience and an older age as a risk, but the coaching staff doesn’t. “He’s more mature, he can handle pressure situations and the man had already played professional football,” Cole said.

Burgiel will bring a lot to the Bears both on and off the field.  According to Cole, with Hayden having that high level of experience in Aussie Rules, he will teach the younger players the art of professionalism.  “He’s in here 30 minutes before practice stretching out, after practice stretching out and in the training room taking care of his body.”

When I saw him punt and saw his talent, I was interested,” Head Coach Mike Kellar said. “He’s mature, he’s played in the AFL and I don’t think the lights of American Football will be too big for him.”

As Cole said, “scared money can’t make money,” so they have recruited out of the box. According to Cole, a punter has no age barrier and they also needed a punter with flair, which they’ve gotten in Burgiel.


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