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Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Walk-on Gonzalez expected to kick Saturday

By Peter Yoon

After missing three of his last four extra-point attempts, Jeff Locke said Wednesday he expected to be removed from the short kicking duties and that walk-on Tyler Gonzalez will get those opportunities Saturday against Washington State.

Locke, who also serves as punter and kickoff specialist, was forced into field goal kicking duties because of injuries to Kip Smith and Joe Roberts. He started strong, making field goals of 51 and 49 yards against Texas, but has struggled in the last two games.

"I’ve missed three extra points in two games. You can’t do that at the college level," Locke said. "You’ve got to give another guy a shot. I wish I would have come through and I haven’t felt the best the last couple of days about it, but it is what it is now."

Gonzalez was the student manager for the UCLA men's soccer team when the football team began having injury problems among its kicking corps. He went through a tryout period and has progressively improved. He will kick extra points and short field goals, though Locke would probably still get longer field goals.

"Everyone knows Tyler doesn’t have the strongest leg," Locke said. "He’s not the biggest guy so I think definitely super long field goals I’d still be thrown in the mix for that."

Gonzalez made three of five field-goal attempts in practice Wednesday. One of them hit the upright and probably would have been good if not for a goal post that was leaning significantly to the left. He also made a field goal to end the two-minute drill.

Locke said he would try and help Gonzalez overcome the nerves that are sure to flare up come game time. Gonzalez has been at the last three UCLA games, but the fifth-year senior hasn't kicked field goals since he was a senior at Fullerton High School.

"He’s a little jittery, but everyone is their first couple of games," Locke said. "We’re making sure he’s nice and calm. He’s the kind of guy who is a better kicker when he doesn’t think about it. He’s a soccer player, he comes out and kicks the ball."

As far as getting over his own struggles, Locke said he was working to just put things behind him and focus on his other duties. He was fourth in the nation with a 45.84 punting average last year and is averaging 44.2 so far this year.

He will also continue to handle the kickoff duties. He's averaging 66.7 yards on kickoffs and has kicked eight of 23 for touchbacks so far this season.

"The biggest thing is you just have to forget it," Locke said. "I mean both the kickoffs after the missed extra points at Stanford I did pretty well on those. Really you just have to clear your mind. You can’t think about it at all. If you let it sit in your head you’re going to mess everything else up and let your teammates down so you have to have a small rear view mirror and a big windshield."