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UCLA FOOTBALL

UCLA's Ryan Hofmeister is a certified specialist

Junior linebacker is part of all Bruins special teams and loves playing on all of them, although his preference seemingly changes depending on the day. How is he leaning lately? 'Kickoff return is my favorite,' he says.

November 19, 2013|By Chris Foster
  • UCLA's Ryan Hofmeister, bottom, grabs at California's Bryce Treggs' feet to pull down the wide receiver during the Bruins' 37-10 win on Oct. 12.
UCLA's Ryan Hofmeister, bottom, grabs at California's Bryce… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

UCLA Coach Jim Mora gathered his football team's leaders days before the Bruins played Stanford, and Ryan Hofmeister stood out in the crowd.

There was tall and athletic quarterback Brett Hundley, powerful linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, massive offensive linemen Xavier Su'a-Filo and Jake Brendal, and Hofmeister, a smallish, little-known junior linebacker.

Hofmeister looked around at the group he was in and "was a little flustered."

Who was out of place?

Turns out, no one.

Captain Crab, a nickname Hofmeister acquired because of how low he runs during drills, deserves a place with the in-crowd, say his teammates, who made him a team captain this season.

"There are days when you come out here for practice and go, 'Shoot, today is going to be tough,' " linebacker Jordan Zumwalt said. "I have never seen him take a day off. Everyone appreciates what he does."

Hofmeister does a lot.

He is on the kickoff team, kickoff return team, punt team, punt return team, field-goal team and the field-goal block team. Mix in a little time on defense and add the funky nickname, and it's easy to see why teammates gravitate to him.

Hofmeister also has a personality that Mora described as "quirky."

"His mind is very creative and animated," Mora said. "Around Halloween, he always has these amazing costumes. He'll post on Instagram really unique photos. It's not like the typical, 'I'm in my jersey, at the Rose Bowl, ready to battle.' It's artistic."

Hofmeister's post-football dream is to work in special effects for movies and television. He already crafts his own masks — the Joker, aliens and monsters among them.

"I'm an aspiring artist," Hofmeister said. "That's how the FX thing started. I met some guys in North Hollywood and they showed me some things and I started making masks. The guys on the team like them. ... They want me to bring them in, wear them. It's a cool thing."

As a football player, Hofmeister comes from a blue-collar background. He was a key player on a Vista Murrieta High team that finished 13-1 in 2009, but no four-year university program wanted him.

So Hofmeister went the junior college route. He played for Riverside College, where he led the team in tackles during a 10-1 season in 2010. Still, few four-year college coaches seemed interested — but Frank Ganz Jr., then UCLA's special-teams coach, was one of them.

"I'm the underdog," Hofmeister said. "I flourish off that."

Mora was hired as UCLA's head coach in December 2011 and formed an immediate opinion about Hofmeister, who is 6 feet and 222 pounds, and not fleet of foot.

"I was like, 'Ryan, I don't know if you're going to fit in with what we're doing. You might want to think about transferring if you really want to play football,' " Mora recalled telling him.

Then spring practice started.

"About a week into practice, I was begging him, 'Hey, hey, hey, I was just kidding, don't go anywhere,' " Mora said. "I realized his value."

Hofmeister stayed and thrived. On special teams, he has become indispensable, serving in roles of which he is proud.

"Everyone sees it as you're not out there on defense or offense, you're just a special-teams guy," Hofmeister said. "… You have much more of an impact for the team than you think."

Jeff Ulbrich, UCLA's linebackers and special-teams coach, preaches that mindset.

"Special-teams guys are frontline players," Ulbrich said. "It's not typically viewed as that, but these guys embrace that. Ryan epitomizes that."

Hofmeister said last week that the kickoff unit was his favorite, and most of his 15 tackles have come on kickoffs.

"We're the flagship of the team," Hofmeister said.

Tuesday, he had a different opinion.

"Kickoff return is my favorite," he said. "I like having a guy coming at me full speed that I have to block."

Next week, who knows.

No matter, said Bruins safety Anthony Jefferson: "He excels at them all."

chris.foster@latimes.com

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes

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