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UCLA kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn ready to fill some big shoes

April 22, 2013|By Chris Foster
  • UCLA kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn walks off the field after missing a field goal against Stanford.
UCLA kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn walks off the field after missing a field… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

UCLA ends practice the same way every day: Ka’imi Fairbairn stares at the goal posts from 52 yards away and to the left.

Fairbairn stood at that distance and angle in December, watching his field goal attempt hook wide. He then watched Stanford celebrate a 27-24 victory in the Pac-12 championship game.

“Coach puts me in that position every practice to help me get over it,” Fairbairn said.

There is a need for Fairbairn to learn such things and grow — not so much as a kicker, but as a leader. He has to assume a leadership role among the specialists, even though he will only be a sophomore this fall.

Fairbairn got a crash course in what that means this past season, learning under punter Jeff Locke, who also was his holder, and long snapper Kevin McDermott. Both were seniors.

“What’s been hard for him this spring is he’s working with a new snapper and a new holder,” Coach Jim Mora said. “That operation between those  three is real critical, and he was so comfortable with Kevin McDermott and Jeff Locke. He has had to adjust, yet it hasn’t affected him.”

UCLA has had a string of veteran leaders among special-teamers: Aaron Perez, Kai Forbath, Christian Yount, Locke and McDermott, among others.

“We got to keep the kicker and specialists tradition alive,” said Fairbairn, who made 16 of 22 field goals last season, but was only two of six from 40 or more yards. “Jeff and Kevin were really experienced. They have been through a lot. I just tried to mimic what they did and stay on top of things.”

He’ll have to wait to tutor Sean Covington, who will be the Bruins’ punter in the fall. Covington is finishing up at St. Petersburg (Fla.) High School.

“He’s all the way in Florida, that’s half-way across the world,” Fairbairn said. “He really doesn’t answer phone calls from what I heard.”

Covington is expected to make a smooth transition. Jerry Neuheisel is set to be Fairbairn’s holder.

Who will be snapping the ball remains a question. There are big cleats to fill.

“Every NFL guy who has come through here and has worked out our kicker, punters and snapper has said Kevin [McDermott] was the best long snapper in the country.”

Christopher Longo, who is recovering from knee surgery, is expected to get the first shot at the position, but Mora said, “there are guys out there who are potential walk-ons."

In the meantime, Fairbairn kicks from 52 yards away ... from the left hash mark.

“He’s about 50-50 right now,” Mora said. “Sometimes I give him second chance, sometimes I don’t.”

Fairbairn didn’t need a second chance Monday.

Draft status

Former UCLA players are trending up in this week's NFL draft.

Defensive end Datone Jones is projected as a first- or second-round pick. Running back Johnathan Franklin is expected to go in the second round. Even Jeff Locke could get drafted, a rarity for a punter.

It makes Mora school-boy giddy seeing players from his first team get high marks heading into the draft.

“I’m really excited about the draft, more excited than I ever was when I was an NFL guy,” Mora said. “I’m just so jacked up for our players. I can’t wait.”

UCLA did not have a player taken in last year’s draft.

Candid Camera   

Quarterback Brett Hundley went through practice Monday with a small camera attached to his helmet.

“You can learn about where he’s looking,” Mora said.

Hundley used the camera a couple times last season.

“From the film perspective, you see usually only see the wide angle, like a bird’s-eye view,” Hundley said. "With this, you’re seeing the first person thing. You see what I’m really looking at rather than guessing. You can’t make excuses.”

Fitts hobbled

Freshman defensive lineman Kylie Fitts re-injured his ankle Monday. He will likely be held out the rest of spring practice, which ends Saturday with the spring game at the Rose Bowl. Fitts sprained his ankle earlier in spring.

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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