There will certainly be no lack for incentive when Chris Griffith reports for the start of his third season as a kicker for the UCLA football team in two weeks.
And it's not just because the 1997 Douglas High School graduate has tallied some numbers in the past two seasons to approach the achievements of such UCLA kicking greats as Chris Sailer, John Lee, Zenon Andrusyshyn and Efren Herrera.
Griffith merely shrugged off such comparisons as he relaxed at home in Gardnerville before departing for Los Angeles. The redshirt junior is looking forward to helping the Bruins on a road they hope will lead to the top of the college football world.
"I'm so confident in my team," Griffith said. "The last two seasons, sure we've came in with high expectations, but I've never seen the look in the guys' eyes like I do now. We know, if we're going to do it, this has got to be the year. The national championship game is going to be played in our stadium (the Rose Bowl) -- that's our team goal."
UCLA returns 17 starters from a 2000 team that defeated Alabama and Michigan in non-conference action, had nine of its 12 games decided by seven or fewer points and played in a bowl game for the third time in the last four years. Seven of those returning starters are back on offense, including star tailback DeShaun Foster and quarterback Cory Paus. Another eight are back on defense, including heralded linebacker Robert Thomas. The Bruins also have Nate Fikse back as punter and Griffith as the incumbent PAT and field goal kicker -- both were second-team All-Pac-10 Conference selections last year.
"We lost four games by three points or less, but our defense is going to be a lot stronger; that's been one of our weak points in the past," Griffith said.
The 6-foot-2, 198-pound Griffith connected on 11 of 14 field goals and 44 of 46 PATS and ranked second on the team with his 77 points last season.
Griffith's 24 career field goals rank him No. 7 on the all-time list and his career field goal percentage of .750 ranks third among players at UCLA. In the last two seasons, he has made 18 of 22 attempts from inside 40 yards and six of 10 from at least 40 yards.
Griffith spent his first season at UCLA in 1997 as an understudy to All-American Chris Sailer.
"I didn't play that year, but I traveled with the team and I learned a whole lot about teamwork and how important the position (kicker) is," Griffith said.
"He (Sailer) helped me out tremendously. That was the biggest learning experience I've had in sports, no doubt, and one of the main reasons for the success I've had the last two years."
Among the sights Griffith saw during that 1997 was Sailer kicking a school record 57-yard field goal against Oregon.
"I'd like to get that. The longest I've had is a 49-yarder; I'm anxious for it, but I'm not begging for it. I just want to take it kick by kick."
UCLA has a long tradition of quality kickers.
"I'm fortunate to go to a school that has a tradition of great kickers. I mean, John Lee is considered one of the greatest college kickers of all time, so I'm just excited to be in the position where I can even be mentioned with guys like that," Griffith said.
To have any chance at the national championship, the Bruins will have to get through their Pacific-10 Conference unscathed. That alone will be no easy chore, according to Griffith.
"The Pac-10 is going to be real strong," he said. "The Oregon schools are going to be strong, so is Washington, and you never know what's going to happen with USC. We're just going to take it game by game and try to make sure we don't stumble like last year."
Griffith can hardly wait for the start of camp on Aug. 9.
"It is exciting. The team is family, they're like brothers," he said. "Everybody lives together, works out together. I love to come home to Gardnerville, but I can't wait to get back there (to Westwood) and get down to business."
UCLA will face a challenging schedule that features non-conference opponents Alabama and Kansas on the road and Ohio State at home ... The Bruins are scheduled to play six games live on television this coming season ... UCLA's longest drop kick field goal is 27 yards by Mike Frankovich against Utah in 1933. "The drop kick is still legal," Griffith said. "Yes, we work on them; we come out every day at practice and fool around with drop kicks." You just never know.