UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel confirmed Thursday that walk-on Tyler Gonzalez will be his kicker for extra-point attempts and short field goals, replacing Jeff Locke.
Gonzalez is the former team manger for the men's soccer team who joined the Bruins three weeks ago when injuries depleted the UCLA kicking corps. Kip Smith, the starter, and Joe Roberts, the backup, have both been out because of injuries. Locke, who is the punter and kickoff specialist, took over the placekicking, but has missed three of his last four extra-point attempts.
Locke said Wednesday that he expected to lose that part of his job and Neuheisel confirmed that Thursday.
"We’re going to let Tyler have a shot at least in the short stuff and we’ll see how it plays itself out," Neuheisel said. "It’s a heck of a story now from soccer manager to starting kicker."
Neuheisel said Locke would still handle longer field goals, saying that "in my mind, probably 40" yards is the limit for Gonzalez, but that Gonzalez, a fifth-year senior who has not kicked since his senior year in high school, would kick the short ones even if it was in a game-winning situation.
"If it comes down to it, go make the kick, man," Neuheisel said. "Every great movie needs a great ending so let’s create it."
Asked if he thought Gonzalez could handle the magnitude of such a situation, Neuheisel laughed.
"I think it will be more me being calm than him," Neuheisel said. "I think he’s going to be fabulous."
Neuheisel said he was making the move not because of a mistrust in Locke, but merely to lighten Locke's load. He was fourth in the nation in punting last season with a 45.84 punting average and Neuheisel wants Locke to focus on that part of his game.
"I don’t lack confidence in Jeff, I'm just taking it off of him," Neuheisel said. "I want him to go back to being the best punter in the country."