UCLA transfer RJ Lopez adds kicking competition

On3 imageby:Tom Dienhart02/20/24


RJ Lopez has never visited Purdue. But that didn’t stop the UCLA kicker from committing out of the portal to the Boilermakers on Tuesday.

Lopez plans to check out the Purdue campus in March. And he’ll then arrive back in May to begin workouts, hoping to earn a role as the Boilermakers’ kickoff specialist or field-goal kicker … or both.

“There’s a lot more to kicking than just a strong leg,” said Lopez. “I feel like my biggest skill would be my adaptability.”

Ben Freehill was Purdue’s primary field-goal kicker last year, hitting 6-of-11 field-goal attempts. He’s back for a sixth year. Caleb Krockover was the main kickoff specialist. He is no longer on the team. Purdue hit a national-low 47 percent (8-of-17) of its field goals in 2023. Ironically, UCLA tied Purdue for last in the nation in the category.

The 6-0, 180-pound Lopez will arrive with one year of eligibility and as a walk-on, which he was the last four seasons at UCLA.

“They said I’ll be able to compete, there will be an open competition with the other kickers,” said Lopez, whose dad was a professional soccer player and mom was a competitive bodybuilder. “And, depending on how I do, they can see whether they can benefit me or not.”

Lopez entered the portal on December 19 and the Huntington Beach, Calif., native had been talking to Purdue for a while. He also considered Washington State, Indiana and UNLV, among other schools. Lopez is the 16th player from the portal Purdue has added this offseason.

“I’ve been talking to (special teams) Coach (Chris) Petrilli since January and I really liked what he had to say,” said Lopez. “It was an excellent opportunity. And they have a really great tradition. Growing up in California and going to UCLA, I was a little bit apprehensive going to Indiana. But, over time, he made me feel really comfortable and it felt like the right fit.”

Lopez is the second UCLA player to join Purdue from the portal this offseason, joining WR Kam Brown. Purdue also had former UCLA quarterback Austin Burton on its roster from 2020-22. And former Boilermaker Spencer Holstege (2019-22) is a current offensive lineman for the Bruins.

Lopez was the Bruins’ primary kickoff man from 2020-2022 before adding field-goal duties in 2023. He connected on 6-of-11 field goals last year. He also hit 31-of-32 PATs last year. Last season, he booted a season-long 47-yard field goal against Coastal Carolina and also recorded seven touchbacks on his 15 kickoffs.

Lopez was the Bruins’ kickoff specialist from 2020-22. In 2022, he recorded touchbacks on 60 of his 91 kickoffs (66%). His 60 touchbacks were the most by a Pac-12 player. In 2021, Lopez recorded touchbacks on 52 of his 81 kickoffs (64%) and his 52 touchbacks tied for best in the Pac-12. In 2020, he recorded touchbacks on 25 of his 44 kickoffs (57%) and his 25 touchbacks led the Pac-12.

Lopez’s brother, Nick, kicked at Cal and Louisville and now is at San Diego State. And, RJ Lopez is at Purdue.

“I think it’ll be a good opportunity for me to grow and I can’t wait to get to work,” said Lopez.

MORE: Purdue adds UCLA kicker RJ Lopez | Purdue transfer portal tracker

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