Under Jim Mora, UCLA taking more pride in special teams

To try and figure out why UCLA has turned around its special teams so dramatically over the last two seasons, senior linebacker Ryan Hofmeister is a good person to ask.

After transferring from Riverside City College, Hofmeister redshirted the 2011 season and saw how the team looked in its final year under former head coach Rick Neuheisel. Last year, he became a second team All-Pac-12 selection on special teams. He was recently voted a team co-captain for the second straight season.

In 2011, the Bruins ranked 76th nationally in opposing punt returns (9.13 yards per game) and 105th in opposing kickoff returns (24.05). Last year, it ranked 16th (3.94) and 17th (18.67), respectively. According to Hofmeister, much of the improvement in that unit can be traced to a cultural shift that head coach Jim Mora sparked.

“Coming from before, it was more of guys not respecting special teams as something they wanted to do,” Hofmeister said. “With Coach Mora coming in here, amping it up to where it’s a privilege to be on special teams — I think more and more of the guys are believing in that. It’s becoming more competitive.

“Guys are taking that as an opportunity to get on the field and show what they can do. That’ll correlate to whether they get on the field on defense or offense, showing what they’re capable of out there. There’s a lot of pride that goes into it.”