Saturday, March 28

UCLA football’s consistent special teams look to improve before 2018 season

Rising junior JJ Molson made 17 of his 21 field goal attempts last season for UCLA football. The kicker finished third in the Pac-12 with an 81 percent conversion rate on field goals. (Liz Ketcham/Assistant Photo editor)

The Bruins experienced major roster turnover this offseason, but one unit remained intact – special teams.

UCLA football’s special teams unit was arguably its most consistent group of players on the roster last season, and it has been focused on becoming even better in 2018.

“I’m trying to make it as hard on myself as I can now just so I can be as ready as possible when game time comes,” said rising redshirt senior punter Stefan Flintoft.

Flintoft took over full-time punting duties last season and averaged nearly 43 yards per punt – good enough for fifth in the Pac-12 Conference. His performance in 2017 also earned him a spot on the preseason watch list for the Ray Guy Award – given to the top collegiate punter in the country.

Flintoft admitted, however, that while he would love to get the chance to improve on his punting numbers this season, he would prefer to not see the field at all.

“I want a first down just as much as anyone else does,” Flintoft said. “In a perfect world, I would never see the field because that means we just outplayed the other team completely.”

In coach Chip Kelly’s final three years at Oregon, the Ducks never averaged more than four punts per game, ranking them in the top 25 for fewest punt attempts per game in each season.

And if the Bruins can avoid punting, more opportunities will be created for rising junior kicker JJ Molson.

Molson converted on 81 percent of his 21 field goal attempts last season, a drastic improvement from the 60 percent mark that he achieved on 20 attempts as a freshman in 2016.

Molson was named to the preseason watch list for the Lou Groza Collegiate Place-Kicker Award in July, but he will have to adapt to one small change in 2018.

Rising redshirt sophomore quarterback Matt Lynch will take over place-holding duties this season for UCLA, replacing Flintoft who had created a strong chemistry with Molson and rising junior long snapper Johnny Den Bleyker.

Molson said that despite the change, he has full confidence in Lynch’s ability to succeed at the position.

“(Lynch is) very, very intelligent so he has no trouble getting it down,” Molson said. “By the time season comes, I’ll be fully trusting in him, and (Den Bleyker) is probably one of the best snappers in the country.”

Josh Woods

Rising senior linebacker Josh Woods spoke with media at practice Friday for the first time since returning from a season-ending shoulder injury that he suffered October 2017.

Woods, who also missed the entirety of spring practice in March, said he was eager to get back on the field with his teammates.

“It hurts being on the sideline watching and not getting to help and not getting to be hands on,” Woods said. “I was just really grateful and blessed that I get the opportunity to be on the field again.”

Woods is expected to share defensive play-calling duties with rising junior linebacker Krys Barnes this season.

Sports Senior Staff

Smith is currently a Sports senior staff writer on the football and men's basketball beats. He was the 2018-2019 Sports editor and an assistant Sports editor in 2017-2018. Smith was previously on the women's basketball, men's water polo, baseball, men's golf and women's golf beats.

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