UCLA punter Wade Lees, who wants to go into broadcasting if he can’t forge a career in the NFL, learned an important tip while watching a replay of the Bruins’ recent victory over Stanford.
Never praise before the end of a play.
Just as Lees received a snap late in the first quarter, ESPN analyst Pat McAfee told viewers, “Chip Kelly has a very well-coached special teams.”
As the final word left McAfee’s mouth, Stanford broke through a wall of blockers and got a hand on Lee’s punt. The Cardinal recovered the bouncing ball in the end zone, forcing McAfee to instantaneously amend his assessment.
“Except for there!” McAfee continued. “The shield got blown up, blocked punt, now Stanford gets their first touchdown of the night.”
Lees could laugh about it after the Bruins held on for a 34-16 triumph. He had received encouragement from McAfee, a former NFL punter, before the game but might have preferred if the broadcaster had saved his in-game compliments for later.
“He obviously jinxed me on that first punt,” Lees cracked, “so I’ll tell him not to comment again on anything about that but no, it’s all good.”
Lees, a graduate transfer from Maryland, acknowledged not having the year he had envisioned when he decided to spend his final college season in Westwood. His net punting average of 37.03 yards ranks 10th in the Pac-12 Conference, but he hasn’t unveiled his full arsenal of skills.
He completed both of his passes on fake punts while at Maryland, giving him a conversion rate that’s the envy of every college quarterback.
“One hundred percent, mate,” Lees said, “got the best QBR in Maryland history.”
One of his completions last season put a scare into a famous coach whose team was tied with the Terrapins in the fourth quarter.
“Urban Meyer pulled out the little hair he had on the sideline,” Lees said of the former Ohio State coach, whose Buckeyes ultimately prevailed in overtime.
Lees joked that he lorded his passing success over Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the other UCLA quarterbacks while waiting for his next opportunity.
“I don’t mind rolling out or even just tucking and going for a run, stiff-arm a few guys and just, like, run 100 yards,” Lees said. “Well, that’s what I dream of ... my reality and dream are two completely different things, but I think I’m too slow, I’d probably get five yards and be swamped by about 12 players.”
It’s that sort of personality that might make Lees, a 31-year-old from Australia, a natural in broadcasting. He’s created a YouTube channel after getting advice from Pac-12 Network analyst Yogi Roth, with early episodes covering his back story and future ones intended to teach Australian-style punting.
“Obviously, Australian punters are sort of a commodity at the moment,” Lees said. “A lot of you guys and even young American aspiring punters just want to know how to do the rugby roll-out punt and what not and there’s nothing on YouTube about it at the moment.”
There will be soon, allowing Lees to demonstrate his skills on dual fronts. And unlike broadcasters calling games live, Lees can erase any verbal slips.
“It’s just for me to sharpen up my skills and my camera presence and whatnot,” Lees said, “talk a bit of rubbish on air and, yeah, just have fun with it.”
Run for it
UCLA has averaged 221.5 yards rushing in its last four games after averaging just 78 yards in its first three, but the improvement goes well beyond running back Joshua Kelley rounding into form after a knee injury.
Kelly also credited improvement along the offensive line, better blocking from the tight ends, the emergence of Demetric Felton Jr. as a No. 2 running back and the running ability of Thompson-Robinson and fellow quarterback Austin Burton.
“It’s a combination of all that,” Kelly said.
Kelley has undoubtedly played a big part in the surge, averaging 125.7 yards rushing over his last three games after averaging only 64.7 yards over his first three games since returning from the injury that held him out of the season opener.