By Drew Slipe
Conrad Ukropina ’12, Stanford
Former Loyola and current Stanford kicker Conrad Ukropina ‘12, a redshirt junior, watched on the sidelines as then No. 6 ranked Notre Dame scored a late touchdown to take the lead over No. 9 Stanford 36-35 on Nov. 28. With 30 seconds left on the clock, Stanford needed to quickly drive down the field in order to win.
Stanford’s offense drove down the field and set Ukropina up for a 45-yard field goal attempt to win the game. “I turned to holder Dallas Lloyd and told him ‘alright dude, we might as well just make it’,” Ukropina said.
The ball was snapped, and Ukropina made the field goal as time expired as Stanford won the tame. “The snap was great, the blocking was great and the hold was great. All 11 guys did their job to help me kick it through the uprights,” he said.
According to Ukropina, the weight of the moment didn’t sink in until hundreds of random students stormed the field and picked him up on their shoulders.
Ukropina said, “As a kicker, you’ve got to have confidence and be in the mindset that you are going to make it. The great thing about kicking is that the opposing team doesn’t influence the outcome of the kick nearly as much as they do with offense and defense. Whether you are playing Notre Dame or a practice squad, you can treat every kick the same.”
Ukropina was surprised by the amount of attention that his winning kick has received. “A lot of people want to give me credit for the win because of my kick, but it truly was a team effort. Kevin Hogan [Senior quarterback] had a great game and Christian Mccaffrey [Sophomore running back and Heisman Trophy Finalist] was phenomenal as usual. The entire team played well and did what we needed to do in order to win,” he said.
At Loyola, Ukropina kicked field goals, kickoffs and punts for the varsity team during his junior and senior years. As a senior he earned a place in the 2012 Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl as a punter and committed to play for Stanford as a preferred walk-on.
In a season filled with memorable events, one moment sticks out in particular to Ukropina. “The best part of the season for me was when I learned from Coach Shaw that I had been given a full scholarship. I had trained so hard for the past three years as a backup to kicker Jordan Williamson and punter Ben Rhyne, and it was great to know that all the work that I had put in was worth it.”
Ukropina plans to graduate a quarter early this winter with a bachelor’s degree in Science, Technology, and Society. He was recently named to the Pac-12 All-Academic 2nd team along with fellow Cub alumnus Jared Baker ‘11of University of Arizona. Cub alumni Jerry Neuheisel ‘11 UCLA and Cameron Walker ‘13, Cal, also received recognition as academic honorable mentions.
Since Ukropina has one more year of eligibility available next year, he plans to earn his master’s degree while continuing to kick for the team.
Stanford will conclude their season by playing in the annual Rose Bowl game against Iowa on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, CA.
Thomas Welsh ’14, UCLA
Former Loyola and current UCLA center Thomas Welsh ‘14 helped the unranked Bruins beat No. 1 Kentucky 87-77 on Dec. 3.
Welsh led all scorers with 21 points, shooting an efficient 8-for-11 from the floor. He also contributed 11 rebounds and two blocks in the game. The Pac-12 Conference named Welsh player of the week after his performance against Kentucky. Welsh described the game as “an incredible experience.”
Eager to get revenge after Kentucky trounced UCLA 83-44 in last year’s matchup, Welsh said the team was motivated to win, “We were already fired up going into the game against the No. 1 team in the nation, and the atmosphere in Pauley Pavilion gave us the extra boost of energy we needed to come away with a win.” Welsh added, “Going into the game we had confidence in ourselves that we could beat them.”
After Kentucky opened up the game with a basket, UCLA went on a 9-0 run and maintained a lead for the rest of the game. “Once we got it rolling early on, we just focused on keeping that momentum going. I thought we did a great job of keeping them down to ultimately win the game,” said Welsh.
Welsh pointed to the team’s preparation as one of the keys to getting the win, “ We looked at the game as a great opportunity to do something special, and I think that showed in how well we prepared for the game and how well we came together and executed the game plan that was in place.”
At Loyola, Welsh played center for the varsity basketball team for three years. During his senior year Welsh won Mission League MVP and was selected to play in the 2014 Mcdonald’s All-American Game, an annual all-star game that features the top high school basketball players in the country.
UCLA currently has an overall record of 7-3 following a road win over No. 20 Gonzaga on Dec. 12. They have a big matchup against No. 3 North Carolina on Dec. 19 before entering Pac-12 conference play on Jan. 1 at Washington.
Welsh said that the team’s goals are to finish in first place in the Pac-12 and to exceed last year’s Sweet Sixteen finish in the NCAA Tournament.