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Perez Has Some Big Shoes to Replace

Times Staff Writer

Chris Kluwe has moved on to the NFL, leaving redshirt freshman Aaron Perez in charge of UCLA’s punting game.

Perez averaged 42.9 yards a punt as a senior at Covina Charter Oak High, booming one kick 83 yards. But he acknowledged that he expected to feel first-game jitters in the Bruins’ opener Sept. 3 at San Diego State.

“I tend to always be a little nervous, but the guys around me are telling me to think of every punt like it’s practice,” Perez said. “In a game, the biggest thing everyone will tell you, ‘Don’t think, just go out there and swing as high and as hard as you can.’ ”

Perez said that Kluwe, who is trying to latch on with the Seattle Seahawks after a stellar senior season in which he averaged 43.4 yards, was an excellent mentor.

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“He taught me to shorten my steps to get better hang time, keep my head down on the ball -- all those things that I do now without even thinking about it,” Perez said. “The biggest thing for me is hang time, getting it up and giving my team a chance to cover it.”

Perez has looked impressive recently in training camp after an uneven start in which he struggled to get off punts under the allocated time of 2.1 seconds. He has also begun to excel under pressure.

“Every time we’ve had a rush on him throughout most of the camp, he’s responded and had his best kicks,” said special-teams coach Brian Schneider. “We’re just excited to see him get out there and go.”

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Sophomore receiver Matthew Slater was diagnosed with a strained lower right leg after sitting out practice Thursday. X-rays were negative, and Slater is listed as day to day.... Sophomore safety Chris Horton is expected to sit out at least the San Diego State game after undergoing surgery on his dislocated right wrist.

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Senior quarterback Drew Olson and redshirt freshman Ben Olson will work exclusively with the first-team offense during Saturday’s scrimmage at Drake Stadium, with senior David Koral and redshirt freshman Pat Cowan working with the second unit.... Senior center Mike McCloskey, sidelined again Thursday because of a right shoulder sprain, is expected to participate in the scrimmage.


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