There’s a youth movement in UCLA’s kicking game

Coach Jim Mora watches the Bruins go through drills during their training camp in Westwood.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

One is tasked with upholding a tradition and the others with reestablishing one.

UCLA kicker J.J. Molson is replacing Ka’imi Fairbairn, the Pac-12 Conference’s all-time leading scorer. Meanwhile, long snapper Johnny Den Bleyker and punter Austin Kent will try to elevate the Bruins’ punting game from among the worst in the nation.

The kicking game figures to be a growth sport for the specialists because they’re all freshmen.

“It’s definitely a lot more of a bonding group, I would say, than if the starting kicker was a senior, the punter was a freshman,” Molson said Wednesday. “I mean, we’re all in this together.”


Each of the specialists was highly touted coming out of high school, but Molson doesn’t possess an extensive resume, having kicked for only a few years after playing soccer for most of his childhood. He’s expected to handle kickoffs as well as field goals and showed improved consistency over the final week of training camp.

Kent will try to revive a punting game that averaged only 37.1 yards per kick last season, ranking eighth in the Pac-12 and 70th nationally.

“Honestly, my biggest goal is to help out the defense,” Kent said. “I know with my role, I just have to punt the ball to the other team and make sure I give them a long field.”

UCLA Coach Jim Mora has described his team’s kicking game as “the great unknown” because it will primarily rely on players without any college experience. At least their experience will have a shared element.


“We’re going to be together for four years,” Kent said. “I think that’s something really special.”

Authorized account

Mora is on Twitter. Or at least someone tweeting on his behalf is.

He confirmed that the account @Jim_MoraUCLA belonged to him but said he wouldn’t always be the one composing the tweets. Mora said he also had a private account he used for recruiting.


“I thought it was time to do something to promote UCLA football a little bit,” Mora said of his public account, “so we’ll put videos on there and graphics and interesting articles and things like that, but I’ll have someone helping me do it.”

Mora’s first tweets included a photo of Bruins football legends Jackie Robinson, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode as well as best wishes to high school players and coaches starting their seasons. Mora joked that he would use an electronic signature with his initial like presidential candidate Hillary Clinton whenever he personally composed a tweet.

“I’m kidding around,” Mora said. “I’m not going to do that.”

A hot ticket


One thing that truly is bigger in Texas: the demand for tickets among natives of the Lone Star State for the Bruins’ season opener at Texas A&M on Sept. 3.

The four tickets allotted to each player don’t always satisfy the needs of the locals, so a little pooling of resources can help.

“Whoever’s not using their tickets lets me have them,” said receiver Eldridge Massington, a native of Mesquite, Texas. “Everybody knows I’m from Texas, so they want to help out. I don’t need a lot, I only need a few. Because I’ve told everybody else, only my family’s coming. I have to kind of like be an [a jerk] to certain people, like, ‘I can’t get you.’ ”

Defensive end Deon Hollins, defensive back Will Lockett, receiver Audie Omotosho, defensive lineman Thomas Schwab, guard Najee Toran and running backs Soso Jamabo and Brandon Stephens also hail from Texas.


Twitter: @latbbolch