Jim Mora, UCLA land punter Matt Mengel, also sought by Cal

 Jim Mora, UCLA land punter Matt Mengel, also sought by Cal
UCLA's Matt Mengel punts the ball during the first day of training camp at Cal State San Bernardino on Monday. Mengel's punting prowess made him a popular target during recruiting. (Christina House / For The Times)

The college football world spins wildly sometimes.

Still, who could have predicted that punter Matt Mengel would become the hottest recruit in Pac-12 Conference circles at the end of July?


Mengel, who spent one season at Long Beach City College, chose UCLA, but there was a cellphone tug of war between UCLA Coach Jim Mora and California Coach Sonny Dykes to land him.

The Bruins suddenly had a need for a punter when Sean Covington left the program during the summer. Mengel, Mora said, "was on our disaster list," a board of potential prospects, he said, "who can come in and maybe help us immediately."

Mora made one miscalculation. He made an off-the-cuff comment as Pac-12 coaches were boarding a charter flight to Connecticut and the ESPN offices.

"I just said, 'Our punter is leaving; I need a punter,'" Mora said. "When we landed, I had a text from Matt, 'Hey, Coach, Cal just offered me [a scholarship].' I went, 'Ah man, Sonny.'"

The saga played out as the coaches were on the bus to the hotel.

"Sonny was in the seat in front of me and I'm direct messaging back and forth with Matt," Mora said. "I'm sure Sonny was doing the same thing. It was hilarious."

Mora can laugh now. He got Mengel. His edge was that UCLA had a job to offer with Covington gone. California punter Cole Leininger, who averaged 42.9 yards per kick last season, is a junior.

Mengel also had an offer from New Mexico. He came recommended by former UCLA kicker Chris Sailer, who runs kicking camps.

"We were fortunate to get Matt," Mora said.

What the Bruins have remains to be seen. Mengel has been made off-limits to the media while he acclimates to his new surroundings.

Mengel's punting was spotty Monday, the first day of training camp. He was consistently hitting 40- to 45-yard kicks Tuesday, with a couple in the 50-yard range.

Mengel, who played in high school at Gardena Pacific Lutheran, averaged 37.5 yards per kick at Long Beach City last season. He also handled kickoffs and was five of nine on field-goal attempts, the longest being 31 yards.

Covington averaged 41.9 yards per punt last season.

The Bruins also brought in former Los Angeles Loyola High punter Stefan Flintoft as a walk-on. He had intended to walk on at Oregon State, but changed his mind in July.


Jack of one trade (for now)

Don't look for UCLA linebacker Myles Jack in the offensive backfield during training camp — unless he's disrupting a play.

Mora said Jack will work solely on the defensive side for now.

"We don't want to overload him," Mora said.

Jack became a college football phenomenon as a freshman last season. He was already a talented linebacker, then opened eyes as a running back against Arizona. He gained 120 yards and scored one touchdown. The following week, he scored four touchdowns against Washington.

He was named the Pac-12's offensive and defensive freshman of the year.

Working at running back is off the table … until the season.

"He's a package guy as a running back," Mora said. "When the season starts, there will be time to work him into a game plan if needed."

Quick hits

Linebacker Cameron Griffin is believed to have separated his left shoulder. He wore a sling and did not practice Wednesday at Cal State San Bernardino. … Receiver Thomas Duarte left the field after suffering an injury to his upper left leg. … Guard Alex Redmond left practice because of the heat. He was cooled off in tubs and carted to the training room. … Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn was seven for seven on field-goal attempts. The longest was 36 yards.