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UCLA kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn is more confident this season

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UCLA kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn anticipates more hits this season
Right tackle Conor McDermott appears to be close to winning a starting job
UCLA will close training camp with a mock game Saturday

Ka'imi Fairbairn ended UCLA's practice Friday by burying a 51-yard field goal that was dead-solid-perfect.

That has been a common sight the last two seasons ... at least on the practice field. In games, it has been hit and miss.

That, Fairbairn said, should change this season.

"I'm more comfortable, more confident," he said. "It seems more simple to me. I just don't get affected by things I can't control."

Fairbairn's roller-coaster UCLA career can be summed up in two words: Arizona State.

His last-second 33-yard field goal gave the Bruins a 45-43 victory over the Sun Devils in 2012.

Last season, Fairbairn missed two field-goal attempts in a 38-33 loss to the Sun Devils, including a 37-yarder with five minutes to play. The Bruins got the ball back with 1:17 left, but needed a touchdown instead of a field goal to win.

It would be unfair to hang that loss entirely on Fairbairn. But such things come with the job.

"A kicker, they only get that one chance," said UCLA Coach Jim Mora. "They don't get three downs. They get one shot. It's either in or it's not. You have to be prepared mentally."

Fairbairn has prepared mentally, and physically.

"You can hear the ball come off his foot with more thump," Mora said.

Fairbairn explained it in baseball terms.

"It's like a batter, you have good technique to begin with, then you add strength," he said. "I have more pop on the ball."

That, though, has never been the problem. His leg strength in practice has always been impressive. In games, he has made 30 of 43 field-goal tries in two seasons, but was a so-so seven for 15 from 40 yards or longer.

"He has a tremendous amount of confidence because of the work he has done and the experiences he has been through," Mora said. "Now, we still have to see that transition into games. I'm confident we will."

Fairbairn said he is taking a different approach.

"I learned to block out the noise, whether it's the crowd or the media or whatever," Fairbairn said. "It all starts in practice. You make every kick a game-winner so when you get in that situation you feel like you've done it a million times."

Drill sergeant

Fairbairn credited Sal Alosi, UCLA's strength and conditioning coach, for improving his strength.

"Two years with Sal Alosi will help tremendously," Fairbairn said.

Or kill you?

"That too," Fairbairn said, laughing. "It can go either way."

Birthday wish

Conor McDermott has been eased into training camp to protect his surgically repaired left shoulder. The last two days, the pace has picked up, with McDermott playing right tackle with the first team.

It has been a long road back.

McDermott, 6 feet 9, worked himself into the picture last season. He had beefed up to 285 pounds and got a chance last fall on his 21st birthday, when Simon Goines was injured against Stanford.

"It was an exciting five or six plays," said McDermott, a redshirt sophomore. "It was a good and bad birthday present."

McDermott suffered a separated shoulder and was sidelined for months. He was cleared to practice in June. Now he appears to be close to winning a starting job.

Quick hits

UCLA closes training camp with a mock game Saturday. Practice begins at 10:45 p.m. The Bruins resume practice Monday in Westwood.

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Receiver Devin Lucien passed a concussion test and could be back at practice as soon as Monday.

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Zach Whitley ran on the side Friday for the first time since suffering a concussion.

Follow Chris Foster on Twitter @cfosterlatimes

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