Kicker Goes for Two: Football and Soccer : UCLA: Sailer, a freshman, punts for Bruins but wants to play second sport too.
Chris Sailer certainly doesn’t look like Bo Jackson. And he doesn’t sound like Deion Sanders. But he would like to follow their lead.
Sailer, a freshman at UCLA, wants to be a two-sport star. His two sports are football and soccer.
That’s a tough pair to match at UCLA, since those seasons run at the same time. But far be it from Bruin football Coach Terry Donahue or soccer Coach Sigi Schmid to discourage Sailer. After all, in one month of collegiate competition, Sailer has already shown he’s special.
As the starting punter on the football team, fresh out of high school, Sailer is averaging 40.4 yards a kick, second best in the Pacific 10 Conference.
And as a soccer player? Well, that’s on hold, Sailer having chosen to stick with football this year.
“With starting school and everything, I just wanted to get my feet wet,” he said.
Sailer rates his punting last among the four areas in which he kicks, which also include soccer, placekicking and kicking off.
“Punting is the thing I’m weakest at,” he said.
“It’s a different technique. In the other three, you kick across your body. In punting, you come straight through your body. In the others, you kick with the side of your foot. In punting, you kick with the top of your foot.”
Sailer’s average was given a considerable boost last Saturday at Pullman, Wash., where the Bruins were facing the Washington State Cougars.
Sailer, arms extended and palms open, stood inside his 10-yard line in the second quarter. He surveyed the Cougar return unit and liked what he saw and felt.
Return man Jay Dumas was around midfield. There was a light wind blowing.
Sailer figured that, with a solid connection, and the help of that wind, he could clear Dumas’ head.
Did he ever.
Sailer’s punt not only flew over Dumas, but by the time it finally came to a halt 81 yards downfield, it had nearly landed in the UCLA record book.
The Bruin mark, which has stood for 51 years, is a 91-yard punt by Bob Waterfield, kicked against March Air Force Base.
“It did help that I kicked the ball on [artificial] turf,” Sailer said. “It rolls and rolls.”
Saturday’s game was only Sailer’s fourth as a collegian. Imagine what might happen once he figures out what he’s doing.
When it comes to soccer, it seems that Sailer has always known what he was doing. He started in AYSO at 5, moved up to club soccer when he was 9 and also played at Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks.
Sailer gravitated to club soccer because he found it more competitive than high school soccer.
Sailer met the competitive requirements at both levels. His club reached the national championship final for those under 16. And playing for Notre Dame, Sailer was league MVP, All-Southern Section and the state player of the year in 1994.
A collegiate soccer career beckoned. But so did football.
A first-team, all-league kicker in football, Sailer was on the 1994 Notre Dame squad that went 14-0, winning the Southern Section Division III championship.
What were Sailer’s contributions? He set a state single-season record with 22 field goals, seven of those from 50 yards or farther, his longest 58 yards. He also averaged 44.1 yards a punt.
Sailer kicked 33 field goals in three seasons for Notre Dame, tying another state record.
When he agreed to attend UCLA, Sailer wasn’t willing to give up either sport.
But whether he is good enough to make it to the soccer field as a Bruin remains to be seen, according to Schmid.
“We’ll have to see if he is good enough to make our squad,” the soccer coach said. “If he is not going to make our top 14, it’s not worth the effort. There would have to be a lot of juggling around. He might play for us on Friday, fly somewhere for a football game on Saturday, then play for us on Sunday. To do that with somebody who is not going to play a lot doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
So far, though, Schmid likes what he has seen of Sailer the soccer player.
“He can hit the ball,” Schmid said. “He is one of those no-nonsense-type of defenders. He’s strong and he can be a physical presence in the game.”
And Sailer is coming along at a good time. The Bruin soccer team has four defenders and two will be graduating.
If it works out, Sailer will be one busy student. Besides attending classes, he will have to go to football practice every day, leave in the middle to attend soccer practice, then return for the conclusion of the football workout.
“Terry and I have talked about it,” Schmid said. “We are both willing to bend a bit to make it work.”
Even that wouldn’t fulfill Sailer’s dreams, though. He would also like to become the Bruins’ placekicker, perhaps when current kicker Bjorn Merten, a junior, is gone.
But for now, Sailer is content to maintain a low profile as just another freshman starting classes at Westwood this week with an 81-yard punt to his credit.