Veteran football coach Jim Hightower’s spent nearly three decades at St. Thomas More churning out victories at a record pace and producing more than his share of Division I signees.
However, never had Hightower, a native Californian, sent one of his players back to his home state, and, in particular, UCLA.
That all ended when kicking specialist Bailey Raborn, who made an unofficial visit and camped at the Los Angeles campus over the weekend, received a scholarship offer Tuesday and committed to the Bruins.
“That will be the first one,” Hightower said.
Raborn earned the distinction by catching the attention of UCLA’s coaching staff in Saturday’s kicking camp where the 6-foot, 195-pounder punted in front of coach Jim Mora Jr. and special teams coach Scott White and several other assistants.
“When I got there, it was so much different than Louisiana,” Raborn said. “You could feel the breeze from the beach. It was the best weather to kick in. I just fell in love with the atmosphere.”
While a family emergency pulled Mora away earlier in the camp, Raborn continued to show off his powerful right leg under the scrutiny of White and other coaches, who later pulled him aside for an additional look after the punting competition concluded.
Raborn continued to ride his wave of momentum and went on to win the kickoff competition.
All that remained was the scholarship offer which White extended to Raborn on Tuesday during a phone conversation.
“As soon as I got on campus, it kind of hit me that’s where I wanted to be,” Raborn said. “I got focused and ended up punting really well. They really liked what they saw. They showed me a lot of attention and gave me a private tour of the campus. They really treated me like it was home.”
Raborn, who is being recruited as a punter and potential kickoff specialist, is the 15th overall commitment for UCLA.
“He has a very strong leg,” Hightower said. “He’s very strong on kickoffs. He’s worked hard to totally develop himself.”
Raborn would be the second member of his family to kick at the collegiate level. His older brother — Gunnar — is a sophomore at Alabama where he’s already lettered as a place-kicker.
Bailey Raborn converted 36 of 39 extra points a year ago, and 62 percent of his kickoffs (49 of 78) were touchbacks. He said he carried a 44-yard punting average with three efforts traveling over 50 yards, including a long of 63 in STM’s Division I state playoff loss to Jesuit.
Raborn is regarded as a five-star prospect and the nation’s No. 2 punter by kicking guru Chris Sailer.
Raborn also had an offer from Northwestern State with Georgia, Ole Miss and Southern Miss all extending preferred walk-on invitations and LSU expressing interest.
“I’m definitely blessed to get an offer,” Raborn said. “I worked hard for it and I’m going to keep working harder and excel at this level. Coach White made the offer and I already made my decision once I got on the campus. That was the place I wanted to be and I knew if they offered I would commit right away.”