“Kicked it right into the heads of our offensive linemen,” coach Jim Mora remembers.
Mora is able to laugh about it now, though. Over Fairbairn’s next 52 games, he missed just two more PATs, became the Pac-12’s all-time leading scorer and was honored with the Lou Groza Award on Saturday as the best kicker in college football.
“He just continued to ascend and grow and stay confident, stay focused and work at his craft and now he’s become this remarkably consistent [kicker] that we depend on, that we trust, that everyone respects,” Mora said. “And that he’s recognized nationally for that is fantastic for him; it’s great for this program.”
For any kicker, consistency is the goal and that’s what Fairbairn delivered in his final year at UCLA. He connected on 20 of 23 field-goal attempts and was one of just seven kickers in the country perfect from 40 yards and in (16-for-16). Plus, he didn’t miss any of his 44 extra-point attempts.
You want distance? He’s got that, too.
Fairbairn’s 60-yard field goal against Cal was the longest made field goal in college football since 2012 and over the last decade there have only been three (in 24,038 total field-goal attempts) converted from longer distances. In practice, he said, he doesn’t venture out past 60 yards for practical reasons, instead opting to focus on the kicks he’s more likely to attempt in-game.
“My goal is not really to hit the really long ones,” Fairbairn said. “The 60-yarder just happened to happen. My goal is to perfect inside 50 and the long ones come as they come along.”
UCLA closes its season against Nebraska in the Foster Farms Bowl on Dec. 26 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., but after that Fairbairn will turn his attention to the NFL. Like everybody, he said, he’s dreamed of playing professionally since high school and is cautiously optimistic there will be a place for him at the next level.
“After a lot of hard work you hope that’s in the picture,” he said.
With the new NFL rule that turned extra points into the equivalent of 32-yard field goals, Fairbairn’s remarkable consistency from inside of 40 yards could be valued even more so than in years past. Not that Fairbairn is looking too intently at those factors quite yet.
He has a very straightforward view on what will ultimately allow him to keep kicking.
“It’s pretty simple for kickers: make the kick,” Fairbairn said. “There’s always things to work on, whether it’s the mental game or watching NFL games and putting yourself in the situation that those guys are in and taking mental reps.”