Friday, November 16

Just for kicks


Monday, September 28, 1998

Just for kicks

KICKER: All-American

kicker and punter Chris Sailer’s career in football began with
his love for soccer

By Rocky Salmon

Daily Bruin Staff

He is the player who goes unnoticed unless he does something
wrong.

He is the player who can singlehandedly determine who wins the
game.

He is the player who stumbled onto football through his love for
soccer.

Chris Sailer was a highly touted soccer player at Notre Dame
High in Sherman Oaks. Sailer lettered three years in soccer gaining
such accolades as League MVP, All-California Interscholastic
Federation, State Player of the Year in 1994 and All-American.

He was courted by professional soccer clubs in Europe and
offered scholarships all across the country to play soccer.

In the end UCLA won out.

But Sailer did not become a Bruin soccer player. He now is one
of the premiere placekickers and punters in the nation. Through a
slight kick in life Sailer was propelled towards America’s version
of soccer.

His life was redirected in P.E. class, during a game of
football.

Sailer kicked the football and one of the teachers happened to
be a coach on the Notre Dame High squad and immediately told head
coach, Kevin Rooney, about the student in P.E. class who boomed his
first kick into the end zone.

Rooney approached Sailer after the football season and set up a
demonstration.

"Sailer actually played basketball his first year at Notre Dame
not soccer but became highly touted," Sailer’s former coach
said.

"After his freshman year we asked him to come out and kick one
for us. His first time off the tee he put it in the endzone.

"We then had to arrange it so he could kick for football and
soccer clubs. He would play Friday nights then Saturday was for
soccer."

In his first year kicking Sailer was an average five for twelve
with a 39.4 punting average. But his determination and natural
ability would eventually rise to the surface.

In his senior year, Sailer had a break-out performance, helping
his team to a 14-0 record and a Division III championship
title.

That year Sailor would also walk away with honors from USA
Today’s first team, Blue Chips Illustrated’s first team dream squad
and Valley Player of the Year by the Los Angeles Daily News as he
hit 22 field goals setting a state mark, while nailing three over
50 yards.

"His last year was a wake-up call to the nation," Rooney said.
"He just had the natural ability. He never has really been coached
because we only knew what we saw in film and read in books, so we
let him kick it anyway he wanted to. What he does is just natural
ability, something we could not teach."

This ability prompted many colleges to court Sailer for both his
football and soccer abilities. But his heart still hung onto soccer
and that is why he became a Bruin.

"The coaching staff said I could play both," the senior
communications student said.

"I had been playing soccer since I was five and grew up with
parents from Germany who knew little about football. They thought
football was people running around hitting each other but let me
play because I told them that I would not get hurt. They were not
into it until my second year of high school ball.

"But I looked at the situation and decided that I could not play
both soccer and football and since football was paying for my
degree I stuck with football."

The incredible stress that would have been placed on Sailer from
playing two sports and flying cross country disappeared when he
accepted that he would be a kicker, not a soccer player, at
UCLA.

But Sailer would not start out as the place kicker because of
All-American Bjorn Merten, rather, he began as a punter. In his
first year punting Sailer averaged 42.2 yards per kick, including
an 81-yard kick versus Washington State.

Two years later Sailer became UCLA’s prime kicker, handling
kick-offs, field goals and punts, the first to do so since Frank
Corral in 1977. But Sailer would continue undaunted, as he was
selected second-team All American by the Associated Press and was a
finalist for the Lou Groza place-kicking award.

Sailer attributed his ability to handle all three jobs on the
confidence he built up while punting for two years.

"Not place kicking the first two years gave me confidence," he
said. "While punting I learned about the pressure and the spotlight
which slowly built me up."

Sailer’s first ever field goal attempt in college would be
crucial but would be a misfire against Washington State last year.
He pushed a 46 yarder wide right, and in the end UCLA would end up
losing by three as Jermaine Lewis was stopped short of a touchdown
with the time winding down.

But Sailer is not one to relive the past as the rest of the
season he would put together an amazing streak of 15 consecutive
field goals before faltering at Cal.

In a game where interceptions, spin moves and diving touchdown
catches are what makes the highlight reels, Sailer realizes that
his job is to not push for fame rather to help the team.

Even his own coach, Bob Toledo, said that he hopes Sailer’s job
is not important, echoing the words of Sailer. Because if Sailer
does not have to kick field goals it means the offense is scoring
touchdowns.

But Sailer’s job is much more then field goals. Sailer is the
one who is called on to play the field position game. He has to
punt the ball and try to pin the ball inside the 10, he has to kick
the ball off into the end zone.

In a game where field position almost dictates the scores, it is
Sailer who must step up and put the UCLA offense in position to
win.

"I do not feel under appreciated," Sailer said. "If anything I
think I’m over-appreciated but kicking is a hard thing to do. It
takes a lot of practice. You can grab all the players on the field
and probably 80 percent can throw the football reasonably well, but
if you tell them to kick the ball only a handful could kick it
without looking like a child.

"If you do one thing wrong in kicking then the kick will not go
where you want it to. I have to kick three or four days a week year
round to keep sharp. It may look easy but I encourage people to go
out and try it themselves then judge."

If all things go according to plan then Sailer may only be
relegated to point-after attempts. But it would be sweet justice
if, in the season after the World Cup, a stand-out soccer
player-turned-football player decides the Fiesta Bowl.

BAHMAN FARAHDEL/Daily Bruin

Senior Chris Sailer is the prime kicker for the Bruins and
handles kick-offs, field goals and punts.

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© 1998 ASUCLA Communications Board[Home]

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