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UCLA kicker among best

Owls are mindful of Kai Forbath's range.

UCLA's Kai Forbath kicks a field goal against Oregon in 2007. (AP Photo/Jeff Lewis)
UCLA's Kai Forbath kicks a field goal against Oregon in 2007. (AP Photo/Jeff Lewis)Read more

LOS ANGELES - If Temple's game Tuesday in the EagleBank Bowl in Washington comes down to a UCLA kick, that could spell trouble for the Owls.

UCLA kicker Kai Forbath hasn't missed from 50 yards or closer in 35 attempts over two seasons, and he won the Lou Groza award as the nation's top placekicker this season. His only misses came from 51, 52, and 51 yards.

Forbath is a California kid through and through. As Philadelphia was buried by almost two feet of snow last week, Forbath wore shorts, flip-flops, and a "U.S. Open of Surfing" T-shirt after the Bruins practiced on campus.

But what grabs you about the NFL prospect is the way he appreciates the more obscure players who make the UCLA special teams work, including his close friends Christian Yount, the long snapper, and Danny Rees, his holder.

At the awards ceremony this month in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where Forbath received the Groza award, he singled out his friends. Rees was in the audience, but Yount was in Los Angeles taking an exam.

"He kind of made sure to give Danny and I both some recognition when he was up there," Yount said.

During the football season, the three have a standing golf foursome with punter Jeff Locke every Monday, their day off from football. They typically shoot in the 90s.

"There's a lot of chemistry and friendship between us," Forbath said. "I live with Christian and I've lived with Danny, my holder, previous to that. It builds a lot of trust. It has a lot to do with kicking. The whole operation is being able to trust your holder and snapper that they're going to do the same thing every time. So, being close friends with them definitely builds that trust."

The coach who oversees the UCLA special teams is Frank Gansz Jr., son of the late NFL special-teams guru who was an assistant with the Eagles in the mid-1980s.

"They all have their great relationship, which I think is important," Gansz said. "It gets the mind right. When the mind is right, the body follows."

Gansz remembers his father, who died from complications after knee-replacement surgery last April, as "passionate" about his work and family, and a "tremendous person."

"The role in the game, others can decide that, but I remember George Allen had a great quote one time. He said, 'Offense sells tickets, defense wins games, special teams win championships,' and I'll leave it at that," Gansz said.

Forbath has been a model of consistency for a UCLA offense in need of one.

"Huge, huge, huge," UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "He's an absolute weapon.

"From a strategy standpoint, a weapon beyond the norm. It's a wonderful thing to have in your back pocket."

That was the case against Tennessee in 2008, when Forbath's 42-yard field goal in overtime provided the winning margin.

"We always think he can make anything inside of 55," Neuheisel said. "He'll tell us if there's a wind, it's inside 50. Arizona, he told me it could go back to 70 because he had a little tailwind and he thought it was high altitude. He's a very reliable guy."

How much longer UCLA will have Forbath is uncertain. The junior is considering the NFL draft.

"Oh, he'll play in the league," said Neuheisel, a former Baltimore Ravens assistant. "But I don't think there's any reason for him to go now, because the market for that position doesn't change. I think he can finish school, have a chance to be a two-time all-American. All that kind of stuff is a great thing. Certainly we'll understand if he determines otherwise."

Forbath said he still is considering his decision.

"I'm just looking at my options and talking to different people, just seeing what the possibilities are and whether it's the right decision now or to wait a year," he said. "Right now, I don't really know. It's a good situation to be in."