With two months to go until the start of fall camp, we're going to count down our 30 most important UCLA players for the 2016 season. These are the players we think are going to have the most significant impact for UCLA this year, so don't take this to mean that these are the players we think are the best long-term prospects, or even necessarily the most talented. Every BRO staffer has ranked his top 30 UCLA players, and from that we've drawn an aggregate list.
Today we'll continue with No. 22.
22. Austin Kent, Freshman Punter
2015 Statistics (high school): 56 punts for 2644 yards (47.2 punting average). 14 downed inside the 20.
Why He's Important: As the great sage Neuheisel once said: punting is winning. Last year, one of the multitude of players UCLA tried out at punter actually had one punt that traveled precisely zero yards. So, it stands to reason that UCLA ended up winning the fewest number of games in the Jim Mora era. Axiomatic, really.
OK, so the punting game was probably pretty far down the list of reasons why UCLA only won eight games last year, but it was still an eyesore game-in and game-out. Matt Mengel was inconsistent, and a variety of fill-ins, including receiver Kenny Walker, were no better. Flipping the field was difficult for UCLA last year due to the inconsistent punting game, and that left UCLA in an unnecessary field position deficit all too often.
So, UCLA will start over this year with a freshman punter in Austin Kent, and while he's still sight-unseen, whether he ends up good, bad, or mediocre, his position means that he'll be an integral part of the team next year. Under Mora, UCLA has been pretty football conservative with 4th down decisions, so even if Kent isn't very good, we doubt his talent level will dictate whether UCLA changes its decision making on 4th down. So, either way, Kent figures to make a big impact next year -- positive or negative.
For what it's worth, Kent is the No. 12 punter in the 2016 class on Scout and is ranked No. 2 in the class by Chris Sailer. He's a lefty, like former UCLA punter Jeff Locke, and judging by his high school stats, he has a pretty big leg. UCLA's walk-on punters actually didn't look half bad this spring, but scholarships are not given out to specialists for them to sit on the bench, so we imagine that it's Kent's job to lose regardless.
What's Been Said About Him:
"Austin is a big time punting talent. A great athlete with one of the strongest legs in his class. The lefty has improved tremendously in this area. Punt for outstanding hang time and distance. He has proven that he can compete with the very best. I really like his upside. Has all the tools to dominate the D1 level. Could be a huge sleeper in this class. Also a huge kickoff leg and very capable kicker. I expect him to be a P/KO player at the next level. A fine young man with a great attitude and work ethic. Excellent addition for UCLA." -- Chris Sailer
30 Most Important Bruins for 2016
|Rank||Name||Highest Rank||Lowest Rank|
|22||Austin Kent||17 (Blair Angulo)||30 (John Evergreen)|
|23||Bolu Olorunfunmi||13 (Dave Woods)||Unranked (Blair Angulo)|
|24||Deon Hollins||15 (Tracy Pierson)||Unranked (Dave Woods)|
|25||Darren Andrews||12 (Tracy Pierson)||Unranked (2-way tie)|
|26||Kenny Walker||13 (Blair Angulo)||Unranked (2-way tie)|
|27||Mike Fafaul||11 (Tracy Pierson)||Unranked (3-way tie)|
|28||Josh Woods||23 (Blair Angulo)||Unranked (2-way tie)|
|29||Keisean Lucier-South||14 (Tracy Pierson)||Unranked (3-way tie)|
|30||Nate Meadors||20 (John Evergreen)||Unranked (2-way tie)|