The preseason award watch lists for the nation's top players at their positions have included several U.C.L.A. Bruins as contenders already. Now we can add kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn to that group.
#UCLA senior kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn was named to the @LouGrozaAward preseason watch list. http://t.co/2fF93uDJNV pic.twitter.com/ZCXNYGO1CI— UCLA Football (@UCLAFootball) July 9, 2015
Fairbairn is one of 30 kickers named to the Groza preseason watch list. Bruin alum Kai Forbath won the award in 2009.
One aspect of Ka'imi's performance which is often overlooked is kickoffs but he has been outstanding in that aspect. In 2014, Fairbairn had a average kickoff distance of 64.3 yards which was top in the country, and a touchback rate of 62.5% which was 10th in the nation. The Bruins have been very good on kickoff coverage over the last 2 years, and Fairbairn deserves a lot of the credit for that.
On the other hand, Fairbairn's field goal performance has been frequently criticized, though in fairness, that's somewhat overblown. Fairbairn was 47 of 48 on PATs and 18-22 on FG in 2014 (82%) with misses from 44, 50, 41, and 37. He has been very accurate inside of 35 yards in his career and has not missed a kick in that range in the last 2 seasons. However, he has struggled with longer kicks in his career which puts him in obvious contrast with recent Bruin greats Forbath and Justin Medlock, both of whom were outstanding at distances over 50 yards., That inconsistency from long range has created the impression that he has not been a very good kicker, but overall, Fairbairn has clearly been excellent on kickoffs and he has been a solid FG kicker for the Bruins.
But like the rest of the Bruin roster and coaching staff, the question for Ka'imi in 2015 is whether he can step up his game from solid to excellent in all phases. Fairbairn still has a kink in his technique that creates a bit of a draw on his FG attempts, and that reduces accuracy as the distance of the kick increases. If he can get that corrected, becaue he already has plenty of leg ofr the long kicks, he will be more accurate from long range and can step up in to the category of great Bruin kickers that we have come to expect. Fairbairn's inclusion on the preseason watch list gives an idea of the expectations and potential that the senior Bruin kicker carries.
All FBS kickers are eligible for the Lou Groza Award. Twenty semifinalists will be announced in early November and narrowed to 3 finalists later that month, with the winner being announced during the Home Depot College Football Awards Show on December 10th. Let's hope Ka'imi has the kind of year that keeps him at the top of the list as the season progresses