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New Kicker Breaks In With Bruins : College football: Greg Andrasick, surfer and kickoff specialist, getting his chance on long-distance field goals.

November 02, 1995|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Greg Andrasick traveled nearly 3,000 miles and waited nearly four years to kick his first field goal for UCLA.

But when he got his chance, he was still caught off guard.

In the final seconds of the third quarter of the Bruins' game against Arizona this season, with UCLA leading, 7-0, Bruin Coach Terry Donahue sent kicker Bjorn Merten out to try a 47-yard field goal. Before the snap, the quarter ended.

In the time it took to switch sides, Donahue switched kickers. Uncertain of Merten's effectiveness from that distance, Donahue decided instead to try a kicker who had never even attempted a field goal as a Bruin.

"Can you hit it?" Donahue asked Andrasick.

"I hit it in high school," he said.

As he trotted onto the field, he tried to boost his confidence by imagining the ball sailing through the uprights.

He swung his powerful left leg and, sure enough, his vision became reality. The ball made it through the goal posts.

"It was a good feeling," he said, "to see the ref's arms go up. I had finally got my foot in the door."

He had already been given the job of kicking off at the start of the season. But field-goal kicking is his dream job.

With one swing of his foot, Andrasick had gone from never-used, reserve kicker to long-distance specialist. Donahue announced that he will split the job between Merten and Andrasick, using Andrasick when the distance is longer than 44 yards.

Overnight success for Andrasick? Hardly.

His struggle to make it onto the field as a Bruin started in 1992.

He grew up in Hawaii, making the all-league and all-state teams as a kicker at Honolulu's Iolani High. As a senior, he made eight of 11 field-goal attempts and demonstrated the power in his left leg with a 48-yarder, one of four he made from 42 yards or longer.

What was that worth at the collegiate level?

Administrators from UCLA and Boston College told him that his kicking skill, along with his academic standing, would get him into school.

But there were no scholarship offers, no promises and no other takers.

"I was confident I would make the team," he said of his decision to attend UCLA. "Then I saw the competition."

Merten was there. So was Louis Perez, then the starting kicker, and four or five others trying to make the team.

Growing up in Hawaii, Andrasick had surfed all his life. Sitting on his board waiting for the waves for so many years taught him the value of patience. So he bided his time, strengthening his legs with running and weightlifting. He was a redshirt his first year and watched from the sidelines in his second year.

While he waited, he learned. The Bruins were impressed with his accuracy and improved leg strength, but they remained concerned about the time he was taking.

"When the ball is snapped," said assistant coach Bob Field, who works with the kickers, "it's a matter of hundredths of a second. If a kicker has good protection, he is safe from getting the kick blocked if he can get it off in 1.29 to 1.34 seconds.

"Greg was taking 1.36 to 1.40 seconds. He was not approaching the ball early enough. When the ball is snapped, the kicker has to approach it and be convinced that the ball will be spotted and the laces turned around by the time he gets there."

With the seasons of inactivity, Andrasick wondered if he had made the right move. Back home at the University of Hawaii, kicker Jason Elam had moved on, headed for the Denver Broncos, and no suitable replacement had been found.

"But I realized, that no matter what else happened, I was getting a better education at UCLA," said Andrasick, who came to Westwood because of the university's economic curriculum.

Finally, last season, he got a few chances to kick off and was given an opportunity to kick the final extra point after the Bruins' final touchdown in a 59-23 rout of Arizona State.

"I was nervous," he said. "In the back of your mind, you know that, if you miss, you will never get another look. That's what happens if you're a walk-on and you show the coaches you can't handle pressure."

He handled it fine, both that day and on his field goal against Arizona this season.

"That was a tough situation," Field said. "This was a guy who had never kicked a field goal in college. It was a real test, but Terry had a gut feeling."

Against California last week, after Merten missed two-field goal tries in the first half, Donahue went with Andrasick on field goals for the remainder of the game. He kept his field-goal success rate perfect by connecting from 34 and 46 yards.

Donahue, however, said he will return to his two-kicker system Saturday. Merten has made eight of 13 field-goal attempts, including six of seven from inside the 40-yard line.

Things appear to be working out for Andrasick off the field as well. Donahue has told him that, while UCLA doesn't have a scholarship to give, he will try to work something out after the season.

His patience having paid off, Andrasick is enjoying life.

"When he lines up to kick," Field said, "I swear he looks like he's on a surfboard. He's so relaxed out there, he looks like he's riding a wave."

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