Stefan Flintoft wasn’t sure about this whole coin-toss thing.
“I’d never done it, even in high school,” Flintoft said, “so I didn’t know how that worked.”
Flintoft’s inexperience calling heads or tails was largely the result of two factors: his position and his status as a walk-on until Bruins coach Jim Mora awarded him a scholarship in September.
He’s proved a more than worthy recipient, averaging 42.4 yards a punt to rank fourth in the Pac-12 Conference. Flintoft was recently added to the watch list for the Ray Guy Award, given to the top college punter each season.
Few have monitored Flintoft’s rise as closely as Mora, who first met Flintoft at Los Angeles Loyola High while watching his son Ryder play lacrosse. Flintoft took over as UCLA’s starting punter midway through last season and hasn’t relinquished the role.
Mora surprised Flintoft one morning after a team meeting earlier this season when he walked by with a huge smile on his face, extending his hand to shake.
“He said ‘Congrats,’ ” Flintoft recalled. “I said, ‘On what?’ He said, ‘Oh, they didn’t tell you yesterday?’ And I was like, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘You’re on scholarship!’ And it was like, oh my God. It was cool.”
Flintoft took another unlikely step toward widespread name recognition last month when his teammates voted him a game captain for the first time. That led to an unexpected pregame reunion with Washington center Coleman Shelton, one of the Huskies’ captains.
“I went to high school with him and I knew him very well,” Flintoft said, “so that was a cool interaction, seeing him before the game, captain to captain.”
Flitntoft doesn’t exactly match the prestige of teammate Josh Rosen, which is fine with him; he said he appreciated the understated way that Mora sparked his rise to semi-stardom.
“That’s me,” Flintoft said. “I’m a punter. I don’t want it to be too big. I know my role.”
UCLA’s 2018 schedule that was released Thursday includes a season opener against Cincinnati on Sept. 1 at the Rose Bowl and a marquee road game Sept. 8 against Oklahoma. The Bruins’ other nonconference game will be against Fresno State on Sept. 15 at the Rose Bowl.
UCLA will play Friday games on Sept. 28 at Colorado after a bye week and on Oct. 26 against Utah at the Rose Bowl. The Bruins’ rivalry game against USC will be Nov. 17 at the Rose Bowl, followed by a game against Stanford on Nov. 24 at the Rose Bowl.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch