JJ Molson knows a little something about legacies. He has that whole family name and heritage thing going on. And his grandfather once owned the legendary Montreal Canadiens hockey team. But just as importantly right now, there is the UCLA place kicking legacy that is in front of him.
Going into his senior season, Molson is staring down some big names in Bruin lore. John Lee, Bjorn Merten, Frank Corral, Brad Daluiso, Norm Johnson, Chris Sailer, Ka’imi Fairbairn, Kai Forbath, Justin Medlock. It’s quite a fraternity of kickers. All had great, (some had spectacular), careers at UCLA, and all played, or are playing, in the NFL.
UCLA’s JJ Molson Steps Into Legacy
With 43 field goals made in his three years, Molson is currently 7th on the all-time list at UCLA. If recent pacing holds true this season, he can pass Alfredo Velasco (51), and Merten (57), to move into fifth place on the career field goal list. Fairbairn, at 68 field goals, is probably out of reach unless the UCLA offense bogs down so much that it over relies on field goals for points.
Molson has been active as a place kicker since his freshman season in 2016. His percentage was not particularly good, (12 of 20), but he did show some potential leg with a 48-yarder.
He was well on his way to becoming THE guy in his sophomore season, handling kickoffs and field goals in all 13 games. His success rate went up to 81% and his 17 field goals were tied for 12th most in school history. It was the game winning 37-yarder against Cal at the Rose Bowl with four seconds left on the clock that was the real attention getter.
Last year he was back down to 73% on 14 of 19 field goal attempts. But three of those misses were from 52 yards or longer. He also had a few makes pushed back due to penalties on the line. He was a perfect 10 for 10 from 44 yards and in.
So, what’s in store for his final season? “I think as a kicker, it’s very dangerous to get caught up in the future. You want to stay grounded and treat each day like it’s game day. The way I approach kicking is to kind of replicate my game days each day in practice. As a kicker, it’s about trusting the process and focusing on each kick.”
Molson says the results are showing in camp. He says he has added 10 yards to his range during the off-season. “I’m good from 55. I’m comfortable with that. At the end of a game I wouldn’t be scared to hit a 60 (yarder). I’m hitting from 60, 65 (in camp).”
Kickers have always had a reputation as being a little more “out there” than the average football player. Molson says his approach is more cerebral than physical when it comes to extending his range. “The further you are away from the goal post, it’s training your mind and your awareness to become kind of comfortable and familiar with those long distances and training your mind to kick the same stroke every time. A lot of times in games when you have those long attempts you try to put a bit more into it. So, training from further away, even though I can make it now, is training my mind just to keep the same stroke, the same fluidity and treat it like an extra point.”
Part of the process in the development is that Molson is now on his fourth holder in four years. This year it will be punter Wade Lees. The native of Australia is the ultimate grad transfer. He is 31-years-old and just got married in July. After a professional life in Australian Rules Football “down under,” he spent three years kicking at the University of Maryland before transferring to Westwood this Summer.
Molson says the adjustment has been easy. “We’re going to build that continuity. Wade’s a chill dude. I love Wade. He’s not like a father-figure, but almost like a big brother to us.” Of course, there are inevitable jokes, since Molson is of legal age and Lees is well past it, that maybe after the season, they will have to share a beer or two. But would it be the favored lager of Australia, Fosters, or would it be the kicker’s family brew? Lees says it is an easy solution. “I don’t drink Fosters, and the Molsons don’t go down too bad.”
That of course will have to wait. There is the business at hand of improving off last year’s 3-9 record and Molson getting back to an 80%+ accuracy rate.
“After three seasons I have seen pretty much seen a lot of different elements and different situations so there sure is a lot more confidence headed into this season.”
And while the team is experienced, it is still relatively young. As a senior, Molson sees a role that is unusual for kickers. “You kind of hear those things that a kicker’s not really a leader. I think for me one of the things I wanted to focus on this year was kind of pushing our culture and setting our standard. You’ve got kids like Darnay Holmes and Krys Barnes and being around those guys just pushes you even more because those guys are chasing excellence every day. You to emulate and replicate their work ethic and their approach to their own crafts. And I try to apply that to kicking.”
And then there is that “L” word again. Legacy. Not the family beer business, but the long list of highly acclaimed kickers that have come through Westwood. Molson rattled off a list of the names, as he is fully of aware of the riches of kickers that have worn the uniform.
“All those guys before me, you kind of want to follow in their steps. The great thing about football is it’s not about yourself. You’re representing UCLA. You are representing the kids before you. You’re working out for the kid next to you. So obviously you are in a position where there is a great legacy of kickers, and it pushes you to be the best version of yourself to match their performance.”
That is the football version of a legacy.