In the wake of spectacular season, as we take a look back at the 70 yard breakaway runs, the 80 touchdown passes, and all the other standout plays and wins, we are forgetting something. On every team, everywhere, there are unsung heroes. Players that dont get enough or any credit where due.
Without further ado, I present you with 5 unsung heroes for the UCLA Football Bruins this season.
Jeff Locke is the first person that comes to mind for me. People rarely recognized his talent that made him one of the best punters and kickers in the nation. His iron foot (no, not really) was able to get us out of some pretty bad situations. Dig deeper and you realize his fundamentals are nearly perfect. The time between when gets the snap to the time it leaves his foot is just about as fast as it gets. He has a unique ability to put backspin on a ball and still manage a touchback.
Xavier Su’a-Filo did so much, only to get so little attention. As a leader for the offensive line, he not only protected Brett Hundley, but opened lanes for Johnathan Frankalin. When I asked Xavier how he feels, he said, “Being a lineman you never really think about [the amount of credit we get]. To us, if a run is successful, we’re happy. In my experience, its been such a blessing for us to have Jonathan Franklin as our running back and he never forgets to thank us for all we do.” While I can see this perspective, I really wish lineman got more credit for their physical and tiring playing style.
Shaq Evans also played his heart out this season. While he did lead the team in receptions, he did a lot of “behind the scenes work”. I asked Xavier Su’a-Filo and his response was that “Coach Mora does a really good job of making everyone on the team feels important and a part of the team whether you play or not. Because realistically, everyone is a part of the preparation/win/loss no matter what. Whether you’re a starter, back up, service team player… everyone is a part of it. But if I had to say, it would be Shaq Evans.” Recognition from teammates really means you stand out and work hard.
Eric Kendricks, despite leading the league in tackling, was overlooked as a player. Calling him talented is an understatement. Part of football is emotion, and let me tell you, he played with it. Key tackles and interceptions really put games away this season and set the tone for the rest of the team.
Last, but certainly not least, Ka’imi Fairbairn. While Ka’imi was not an outstanding kicker, his progress this season was unprecedented . At the beginning of the season, I was honestly terrified that we would have little to no kicking game. I was saying, “Let Jeff Locke kick it!” After a game winner in Arizona against the Sun Devils, I sighed in relief as I could see his confidence build. From there on out, he was only to get better.
And that concludes this years list. Remember, there are many unsung heroes on a team. Even the water boys are unsung heroes, but this is just my top 5.