Bruins Nation lauds its most special basketball stars by referring to them just by their initials.
When you're a Bruin football record holder like Jonathan Franklin (all time rushing) or Brett Hundley (total offense) or Kenny Easley (interceptions), you get your entire name written out, no matter how long it takes me to type it.
John Christian Ka'iminoeauloameka'ikeokekumupa'a Fairbairn.
It has been a record setting year for the Bruins' place kicker from Punahou HS in Hawai'i. Ka'imi already set the U.C.L.A. record for the longest field goal earlier this year when he banged home a 60 yarder with room to spare before halftime against Cal. Now, barring any unforeseen or unpredictable issues this Saturday, Ka'imi will become the all-time point scorer in both U.C.L.A. and Pac-12 Football history.
He currently sits one point behind the great John Lee who holds the current record with 390 points, so come Saturday, a single extra point will tie the record and a field goal or a second PAT will make him number one in Bruin history.
(chart courtesy of Andy Fairbairn)
One small asterisk, Lee kicked off a platform. Kicking off the ground like Ka'imi does is a whole lot harder. I'll vouch.
Ka'imi has had the good luck to play for a pretty potent offense during his 4 seasons which has given him plenty of opportunities to kick the ball, but it also speaks to his execution during those opportunities, and his work ethic which has led to steady improvement over his Bruin career.
Not bad for a kicker whose U.C.L.A. career had a bit of a rocky start. Ka'imi's playing career started the same day as Head Coach Jim Mora and a quarterback named Brett Hundley at Rice Stadium in Houston Texas in 2012. It took the Bruins one offensive play to score when Hundley ran that memorable 72 yard TD on his first touch as a Bruin QB. It took Ka'imi a bit longer to get on the board as his subsequent PAT was blocked. He got another chance just about 2 minutes later after the Bruins' second TD, and he saw that one blocked, too.
The third time was a charm and since then, he's been a cool 200 for 203 on PATs, missing just one in each of the last two seasons before going a perfect 38 for 38 so far this year. His accuracy on field goals inside 35 yds has been nails, connecting on his last 29 attempts. He currently leads the NCAA in total FG accuracy (more than 10 FG) at 93.8%, going 14-15 so far. (BN eds: data through Nov 6). You can see from the line on the graph above just how consistent he has been over the last 2 years. Ka'imi's accuracy from distance has been the big step this season, going 2 for 3 at 50+, including the nation's longest FG at 60, and that addition to his game has really pushed him into being one of the very elite kickers in college football.
The often overlooked part of a kicker's game is kickoffs. Ka'imi happens to be currently number one in the country in average distance at 64.3 yrs and among the nation's leaders in touchback percentage.
He also has two tackles in his Bruin career. Look out Eric Kendricks.
Ok. Too far.
Ka'imi is one of this year's 20 semi-finalists for the Lou Groza Award for the nation's top place kicker, and that has to be very gratifying for him and his fans. As with any place kicker, Ka'imi took a lot of heat-of-the-moment criticism for his misses in previous seasons, especially for a couple of 50+ yard kicks that came in pretty high profile circumstances (the Pac-12 Title game in 2012 against Stanford on a cold rainy night, and a last second kick at a chilly Utah when the Bruins made a mess of the entire game). Such is a kicker's life. All or nothing. But the impressive aspect of Ka'imi's game has been his calm demeanor and his steady improvement throughout his career, both of which reflect a great work ethic and intense commitment to his craft.
When you take into account the snap, the hold, the line blocking, and the timing, there are a lot of reasons for a kick to miss that still get blamed on the kicker. In previous seasons, there was a tendency for the ball to drift left on some of Ka'imi's kicks, and that contributed to the accuracy issues at long range. But Ka'imi's kicks this year are nearly picture perfect straight off the foot, and that has resulted in his greater accuracy from distance this season. Because NCAA teams are limited in the number of full time coaches they can have, no school has a dedicated kicking coach, so Ka'imi has had to work outside of U.C.L.A. with Bruin alum Chris Sailer and other coaches and mentors to refine his game. It's been really rewarding to watch the young man improve each year and see the success he has had this year and throughout his Bruin days be recognized.
There are still 3 huge games on the Bruin calendar for the year, and hopefully they'll add a major bowl game after that, so I don't mean to get ahead of things and I sure don't want to be the jinx by writing this today. But I kicked back in my day and I really admire the career and development that Ka'imi has put together at U.C.L.A. Big props also to long snapper Chris Longo and holder Jerry Neuheisel. I hope we get to see a ton more PATs from these 3 before Ka'imi's career wraps up.
So let's look forward to a good offensive game on Saturday against Washington State and be ready to celebrate an all-time Bruin record by a young man who has become one of U.C.L.A.'s all-time great place kickers.
John Christian Ka'iminoeauloameka'ikeokekumupa'a Fairbairn. (I even got those apostrophes right, Fox)