UCLA's new special-teams coordinator, Mike Tuiasosopo, is a coach who has spent most of his career working with defenses.
Luckily for the Bruins, they've got someone on the team with a little more UCLA experience — linebacker Ryan Hofmeister. The redshirt senior was recently named a co-captain for the second year in a row, and has been around the program long enough to know how the system works.
"Coach Tuiasosopo, he's new to the program, so for someone like me, an upperclassman, I'm more of the veteran showing Coach the things that have worked for us in the past that he might not have seen," Hofmeister said. "He's also bringing in new things that we can work in, if we want to, for what works, but we know what we've been doing has been working."
After spending a year at Riverside City College, Hofmeister has been a key member of the Bruins' special-teams unit the last two seasons, and won the award for outstanding special-teams player last season.
That's not to say that Tuiasosopo — also the team's outside linebackers coach — doesn't have a role with the special-teams unit. His role just isn't as explicit as that of Hofmeister, who is more of a roving coach on the field.
"He's brought in a lot of new techniques, little schemes here and there," Hofmeister said. "Not a whole lot of stuff, because we like to stick with what's working and what's been successful in the past, but just little tweaks that work for some guys."
He later added: "When I go out there, you see what kind of works and what doesn't. I try to work in some of the new techniques, he asks me how it feels, but we're all different players so someone's technique might work for them and not work for me. But I'm testing them out to see what works for us and what I think is best. As the captain, I think having a little bit of say in that is naturally helping us do what we gotta do."
This is all a part of a bigger emphasis on special teams. Before Coach Jim Mora arrived in Westwood for the 2012 season, as Hofmeister remembers it, special teams weren't respected. The unit was seen as a place for also-rans, and players didn't want to be a part of it.
That changed as soon as Mora arrived, and it's shown on the field. Last season, UCLA was ninth in the country in kickoff return yardage.
"From minute one, it was Coach Mora amping it up to where it's a privilege to be on special teams," Hofmeister said. "I think more and more of the guys are believing in that, and that it's becoming more competitive, and guys are taking it as an opportunity to get on the field to show what they can do. That'll correlate to whether they get onto the field on defense or offense, showing what their capable of. There's a lot of pride that goes into it."