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Velasco Already Has a Foot in the Door at UCLA : Sophomore Kicker Is Hoping He Will Be Able to Step Into John Lee's Shoes

October 15, 1987|TRACY DODDS | Times Staff Writer

Alfredo Velasco is following in the footsteps of John Lee as UCLA's kicker--three careful steps back from the tee, two sliding steps to the left.

He's been working on the Lee way of kicking since he was a junior at Burbank High School, and his coach, Dave Carson, suggested he try Ben Agajanian's kicking camp.

Lee was Agajanian's most celebrated student. "John was Ben's protege, and they were always together," Velasco said. "If you saw Ben, you saw John."

And if you learned Ben's way of kicking, you learned John's way of kicking. Velasco has been working at it for more than five years now.

It's not a bad way to go.

After five games, the sophomore kicker is leading the team in scoring with 48 points, is 18 for 18 on conversions and is 10 for 12 on field-goal tries, having kicked a 49-yarder two weeks ago at Stanford.

This is just what he had in mind when he walked on at UCLA three years ago.

He's even wearing Lee's old number, 25, and living with Lee's old roommate, Bishop Oliver Garver.

Garver, a bishop of the Episcopal church and an avid football fan, struck up a friendship with Lee at UCLA football practices and started renting a room of his apartment to him several years ago. David Franey, UCLA's kicker last season, also rented a room from Garver. And now Velasco and punter Kirk Maggio live there.

"I know it sounds strange to say your roommate is a bishop, but it's not strange at all," Velasco said. "He's a great guy. Besides, we don't see much of him. He works long hours, like from 7 in the morning until 10 at night. It's a great place to study. And then I go home on the weekends a lot."

Velasco is studying history at UCLA and plans to become a teacher. He's getting some practice as a teacher on Sundays, teaching the catechism to fifth- and sixth-grade students at St. Francis Xavier in Burbank. That's one reason to go home on the weekends, but he also goes home for his mother's cooking and to make the rounds of his brothers' games.

After a home game at the Rose Bowl, the family often goes directly to a Northridge game to watch Alfredo's brother, Abo, kick. His other brother, Salvador, kicks for Glendale College.

So, is the Velasco clan going to become as renowned as the Zendejas clan?

"Well, not yet, anyway," Velasco said.

Still, there are similarities. The family is from Mexico City--Alfredo was 4 when they came here--and they all started out playing soccer. And he did learn to kick from his uncle, Efren Velasco, who was an All-American at East L.A. College and then kicked for the University of Utah.

Agajanian has been saying that Velasco has the talent to rank with the great kickers. In fact, he expected Velasco to immediately succeed Lee at UCLA.

Velasco's first year at UCLA was Lee's senior year, and Velasco worked with Lee daily as a red-shirt. He had his heart set on being the kicker, then, as a second-year freshman. But Coach Terry Donahue chose fifth-year senior David Franey instead.

"I was a little bit disappointed, but I understood the decision," Velasco said. "Coach Donahue talked to me about it. David had worked with John for four years, and David did a good job."

Now, though, it's Velasco's turn. He has yet to miss an extra point, and he doesn't intend to. Besides using Lee's Agajanian-taught soccer-style kick, he also has Lee's confidence and power of concentration.

"When they were placing the ball at Stanford, and I could see it would be 49 yards, Coach Donahue called me over to ask me if I could make it from there," Velasco said. "I told him, 'Yes, sir.' I'm never going to turn down a kick."

That was Lee's philosophy. And Lee didn't miss many. He holds all of UCLA's kicking records and even the career scoring record, 390 points. Velasco isn't likely to match many of Lee's records in three seasons since Lee started kicking as a freshman and held steady for four years.

Velasco has nothing but admiration for what Lee did at UCLA. He has tried to learn not only Lee's kicking technique--which the UCLA coaches do not tamper with--but also Lee's mental approach.

"I think one of the reasons that the kickers always get to be such good friends is that we all understand each other," Velasco said. "I think that's true of every position on the team, but more so with kickers. And we spend a lot of time together, because we're not on the field all the time during practice.

"Football is such an emotional game. There's so much intensity out there. Those guys have the adrenaline flowing. But the kickers have to be calm. We don't want to get too excited. It's like golf. You don't want to be up and down, you want to be consistent. You want to be able to concentrate.

"John was really good at that."

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