Loyola High’s Conrad Ukropina has the soul — and leg — of a kicker


Conrad Ukropina, the junior kicker-punter for Los Angeles Loyola, is an Eagle Scout with a 4.4 grade-point average. But that doesn’t hide the fact he proudly possesses the peculiar personality traits associated with kickers.

“They’re definitely a little bit out there,” Ukropina said.

Kickers are the ones riding a boogie board during a hurricane warning. They’re the ones begging the coach to let them try a 55-yard field goal that no one thinks can be made. They’re the ones faking a broken leg with outlandish screams to convince referees to call a 15-yard penalty for roughing-the-kicker.

In simple terms, being a little quirky comes with the job.

“I think you have to be because it’s such a different mindset with everything you’re expected to do coming out cold and being expected to perform in a pressure situation,” Ukropina said.

Loyola might have uncovered a special player for its special teams in Ukropina, who has been booming punts and kickoffs. He made nine of 10 field goals last season on the sophomore team, then two of three field goals after being moved up to varsity.

He had a 70-yard punt during an intrasquad scrimmage last month, causing a big smile to break out on the face of Coach Mike Christensen. Last week in Loyola’s 10-7 season-opening win over Manhattan Beach Mira Costa, Ukropina made a 29-yard field goal.

He’ll be needed Friday when the Cubs face Mission Viejo (1-0), ranked No. 1 by The Times, in a 7 p.m. game at L.A. Valley College.

“He’s as good as any I’ve had,” Christensen said. “There’s no limit to how good he can be. I fully expect him to hit a 50-plus [field goal] this year without too much trouble.”

Ukropina has trained under private coach Brent Grablachoff, who’s the owner of KickingWorld, and received more help from Loyola special teams coach Lee Jackson.

He hasn’t received a grade other than A on his report card since sixth grade, when he brought home a B.

“I think my brothers razzed me a little bit,” he said.

He has been playing soccer since he was 4, but kicking is his new passion.

“I just love it,” he said. “I think one of the greatest feelings in the world is going out there … you haven’t really made too much of an impact, you’re running out there, everyone calling your name. And making a long field goal that makes a difference.”

Ukropina is so precise in his kicks that one time during practice, he was punting the ball and having it hit the ground just before it could land on the campus snack stand and perhaps break something.

Asked if he had broken any windows on campus, Ukropina said, “I’m trying . . . in due time.”

Kicking guru

There might not be a more influential person in the Pacific 10 Conference when it comes to kickers than private kicking coach Chris Sailer.

Sailer pupils are kicking for UCLA, USC, Oregon, Arizona State, Washington, Washington State and Stanford. In fact, last weekend, three former Sherman Oaks Notre Dame kickers — Kai Forbath (UCLA), Erik Folk (Washington) and Eric Solis (Oregon) — made field goals for their respective college teams. Sailer is a Notre Dame graduate and ex-UCLA All-American kicker.

Embracing change

When Scott Barlow arrived in Santa Clarita from Connecticut three years ago, he was a 5-foot-9 freshman infielder at Golden Valley. This week, he accepted a scholarship to Fresno State as a 6-4 pitcher with an 88 mph fastball.

Good coaches figure out the best position for their players, and Coach Scott Drootin moved Barlow to pitcher last season, propelling him on a path that could lead to many more years of playing baseball.