Fate has always had Matt Mengel’s back.
The UCLA punter was set to join the Marines after graduating from Gardena Pacific Lutheran High when a friend suggested he try out as a kicker at Los Angeles Harbor Community College.
Mengel was then ready to sign with New Mexico after spending a year kicking at Long Beach City College. Then punter Sean Covington flunked out of UCLA this summer.
So Mengel is enjoying Westwood, punting for the nation’s No. 11 team, instead of rising to reveille or pondering the heat index in Albuquerque.
“To sign three days before [training] camp was insane,” Mengel said. “I had no clue that this place was even interested in me two weeks before that.”
Mengel made his UCLA debut with a 34-yard punt during the first quarter against Virginia on Saturday.
“I didn’t even know I was going to be starting until before the first punt,” Mengel said.
Adam Searl and Mengel had both warmed up, but Mengel said, “They yelled for me.”
“Well, there were 45,000 people there,” Mengel said. “We had 100 at Long Beach City games. I was really nervous going out there, then I thought, ‘You’ve done this before.’ ”
Mengel averaged 39.6 yards on seven punts, with a long of 46.
Mengel played soccer and kicked for the football team at Pacific Lutheran. But when he graduated in 2012, he said, “I didn’t feel like I had anything going for me. I had soccer, but the competition in that sport is insane. I would have had a hard time getting a college scholarship.”
He settled on the Marines, “because I have always been interested in the military.” That changed when he tried out for the Harbor College team.
“After a couple weeks, I was doing all three jobs,” field goals, punting and kickoffs, Mengel said.
When Harbor Coach Brett Peabody took the Long Beach City job, Mengel followed.
After averaging 34.5 yards a kick last season, Mengel had two options—a scholarship from New Mexico or a chance to be a preferred walk-on at California.
That changed when Covington left. UCLA had Mengel on its “what-if” board, a list of players who could fill a need if it arose. Still, California Coach Sonny Dykes wasn’t letting go so easily. He came up with a scholarship offer after learning UCLA was interested.
“It was all pretty funny,” Mengel said.
It also wasn’t much of a competition. UCLA’s offer had a job opening attached.
“It’s all been pretty cool,” Mengel said.
Center Jake Brendel increased his workload in practice this week. Coach Jim Mora said there was a chance he could play against Memphis on Saturday.
Brendel sprained his knee during training camp last month. He was one of three key linemen who sat out the 28-20 victory over Virginia. Tackles Simon Goines (knee) and Conor McDermott (shoulder) also missed the game.
“We’ll see where Jake’s at,” Mora said. “He got a lot of good practice in this week, which is very encouraging. We’ll decide as we get closer to the game.”
Scott Quessenberry started in Brendel’s place against Virginia.
Najee Toran, a freshman who started at guard last week, returned to Houston to be with his family after his grandfather died. He is expected to return in time for Saturday’s game. … The Jim Mora Count On Me Foundation will provide free bus rides to the Rose Bowl for 200 kids, ages 7 to 13, on Saturday. The Bus 2 The Bowl participants get a pregame meal and tickets, as well as snacks on the ride home. To participate in future UCLA home games, youth-affiliated organizations, schools and children’s charities can register at countonmefoundation.org.