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UCLA FOOTBALL

UCLA kicker Tyler Gonzalez confident he can do the job

Gonzalez, the former manager for UCLA's soccer team, is handling extra points and short field goals for the Bruins because of injuries to other kickers.

October 12, 2011|By Chris Foster
  • UCLA kicker Tyler Gonzalez celebrates after kicking an extra point against Washington State on Saturday.
UCLA kicker Tyler Gonzalez celebrates after kicking an extra point against… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Kicker Tyler Gonzalez, like many others at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night, was eyeing the scoreboard.

Washington State led, 22-20, in the fourth quarter and those on the sidelines wondered whether the Bruins' season would rest on the former UCLA soccer team manager's foot.

It didn't come to that, as the Bruins drove for a go-ahead touchdown in a 28-25 victory. But Gonzalez, who made two extra points in the game, didn't know what the fuss was all about.

"I could have handled it," he said.

Only four weeks earlier, Gonzalez wasn't sure he wanted to play football. He kicked one season at Fullerton High — after being dragged from the soccer field by Fullerton assistant coach Gus Martinez — but was perfectly happy in his role with the soccer team.

But Dimitri Hajimihalis, a UCLA football staff member and Gonzalez's former roommate, kept after him. The Bruins had lost kickers Kip Smith and Joe Roberts to leg injuries.

"He had been mentioning it to me for a couple weeks and I kept going, 'Nah, I don't know,' " Gonzalez said. "I just thought it would be a waste of [Coach Rick] Neuheisel's time and my time."

Gonzalez, who made six field goals and 22 extra points as a senior at Fullerton, was finally coerced into a tryout the Wednesday before the Bruins played Texas.

"I came out at noon and did a couple kicks for Neuheisel and he said, 'All right, practice is at 3 p.m.,' " Gonzalez said. "I was hesitating and he asked, 'What was the matter?' I told him I really liked soccer."

Gonzalez relented. At the end of practice, he made a 40-yard field goal to cap the two-minute drill.

"All my competitiveness came back to me," said Gonzalez, a senior who will graduate after the fall quarter. "I was like, 'All right, I'm doing it.' "

His lifestyle changed dramatically.

As soccer team manager, he said he handled everything from laundry to equipment, as well as running errands. But Gonzalez, a third-team All-Southern Section soccer player at Fullerton, also got to practice with the team when the Bruins were short-handed.

"I didn't see it as work," Gonzalez said. "I saw it as hanging out with the guys, having fun. They're all my friends."

Now, he said, "I want to challenge myself."

After punter Jeff Locke struggled with extra points, Gonzalez received a big challenge. Neuheisel decided to use him for extra points and shorter field goals.

Gonzalez jogged onto the field for his first extra-point try in the second quarter against Washington State. His parents and family neighbors were watching in the stands, as was Martinez. His former coach helps with the nets behind the goal posts during games.

Pressure?

"My heart was beating 1,000 times a minute," Gonzalez said. "But I was confident I was going to put it through."

Injury report

Guard Albert Cid sat out practice Wednesday because of an illness. He left practice early on Tuesday because of shortness of breath.

Chris Ward (shoulder injury) rejoined practice. Linebacker Glenn Love (hamstring injury) practiced but spent time riding the exercise bike as well. Defensive tackle Justin Edison (concussion) practiced fully.

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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