By Andrew Borders
UCLA Sports Information Assistant
The kicker and punter on a football team are afterthoughts. They don't have the glamour of a quarterback or receiver. They don't inspire the kind of planning that it takes to stop a bruising running back. No one marvels at the brute strength of a kicker or punter like one does for a lineman. To the viewing public, the sight of your team's punter means that you're giving the ball to the opposition, and watching the kicker trot onto the field can trigger unbearable suspense.
"We're not the guy who just kicks the ball anymore," senior punter Fikse said of his position. "We're now used as a weapon. More and more every year it's coming down to special teams."
"It's a love-hate relationship," senior kicker Griffith said. "This is my fourth year starting and I get a lot of support, so I'm happy with the fans of this team and my teammates."
Nate considers himself to be much like any other player on the team, regardless of position.
"I like working out; lifting weights is my therapy. I'm not the typical kicker," he said.
For his own part, Chris was somewhat of a renaissance man for his high school football team, having won accolades as a quarterback, defensive back, and punter as well as his current position.
"I had some opportunities to go elsewhere. I didn't get recruited here as a quarterback. I didn't come in with a scholarship. They gave me the opportunity to walk on with the chance to win a scholarship," Griffith said. "I could have played quarterback somewhere else, but I wanted to come here."
Whereas Fikse can put a punt at the opponent's 1-yard-line or kick it long for a touchback, both of which could be favorable for the Bruins, Griffith's outcome is all-or-nothing. Chris says he doesn't mind the pressure.
"I don't think about it. When I do feel it, I thrive on it. All I think about is going out there and kicking a field goal like I do in practice," Griffith said.
Chris identified the November 13, 1999 overtime victory against Washington at home as his most exciting moment as a UCLA kicker. After finishing regulation in a 20-20 tie, the Bruins won the overtime coin flip and stifled Washington's possession with an interception. Griffith then sealed a 23-20 victory for UCLA with a 22-yard field goal. The loss all but ended the Huskies' Rose Bowl hopes.
While Chris said the outcome of this season's game versus Oregon was perhaps his most difficult, he chose to use it as a learning experience.
"I don't remember 90% of the kicks I made, but I remember every kick I've missed. You learn a lot from your mistakes," he said.
But after hitting more than 80% of his field goals and better than 95% of his point-after-touchdown attempts, Griffith has only five games worth of kicks left in his UCLA career.
"I want to try and play at the next level," he said of his future plans. "If I don't, I'll move on."
For his own part, Fikse figures to have better than 250 career punts by season's end with an average of over 43 yards per punt. Numbers like those figure to send him to the professional ranks next year.
"If I get better in my consistency this year, I think my chances are pretty good. One thing the NFL looks for is consistency," Nate said.
After Fikse and Griffith depart Westwood, their proteges will get their turn to shine in Saturday's spotlight.
"He's gotten better through the years. He's got one of the strongest legs I've seen," Fikse said of his apprentice Kluwe. "They'll be fine."
"I think he's going to be a great kicker. I try and just answer every question he's got, because I learned so much my freshman year," Griffith said of Medlock. "Future Bruin fans, keep your eye out for him."
Though their time under golden helmets is waning, Fikse and Griffith have done more than deal the opposition difficult field position and put trio after trio of points on the board. If their experience has translated onto the next kicker-punter duo, the UCLA kicking game should be in good hands for several seasons ahead.