Stu Cowan: Kicker J.J. Molson making a name for himself at UCLA

Stu Cowan: Kicker J.J. Molson making a name for himself at UCLA
Stu Cowan: Kicker J.J. Molson making a name for himself at UCLA

UCLA's J.J. Molson makes kick during the Bruins' comeback 45-44 win over the Texas A&M Aggies on Sunday, Sept. 3., at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Molson grew up in Montreal and played football at Selwyn House High School and John Abbott College before getting a scholarship to UCLA. Don Liebig / Don Liebig/ASUCLA

It was the greatest comeback in UCLA history and the second-biggest ever in the U.S. College Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-A.

The Bruins were trailing the Texas A&M Aggies by 34 points with two minutes remaining in the third quarter Sunday night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., but led by star QB Josh Rosen scored touchdowns on their final five drives to win the season opener 45-44.

The winning convert, with only 43 seconds left, was kicked by a player with a name that is very familiar to Montrealers on the back of his No. 17 sweater: Molson.

J.J. Molson is 20 and in his second season at UCLA, where he is majoring in sociology. J.J. stands for John Junior. His full name is John Frederick Stewart Molson and he is the eighth-generation descendant of the first John Molson, who started North America’s oldest brewery in Montreal in 1786. J.J.’s father is also John and his late grandfather was John David Molson (known mainly as David), who was owner of the Canadiens from 1964-71. 

J.J. insists he didn’t feel any added pressure growing up in Montreal with the Molson name while playing football at Selwyn House High School and later John Abbott College before earning a scholarship to UCLA. But Molson certainly proved he can handle immense pressure by making the winning kick Sunday night in front of 64,635 delirious fans at the Rose Bowl and a national TV audience. It was one of six converts the 6-foot, 185-pounder made to go along with a 29-yard field goal.

“I’ve never experienced energy and emotion like that before,” Molson said during a phone interview after practice Wednesday. “I wasn’t nervous … it’s only a 20-yard (convert). I was just focused on getting it off in time because I knew they had to block the kick.”

They didn’t as Molson split the uprights.

When asked to describe what it’s like to play in the Rose Bowl, Molson said: “Honestly, I’m still baffled about how I ended up here and how I’m playing in the Rose Bowl when I first started out at Selwyn House and then played my CEGEP ball at John Abbott. That was probably one of the most historic games in college football history. It’s pretty much indescribable to explain how it feels.

“It’s such an adrenaline rush, it’s such a crazy feeling having that point of view from the field … running onto the field and having around 70,000 people screaming. It’s very tough to stay composed and keep your emotions in check, especially at my position.”

Molson, who hopes to one day kick in the NFL, was a six-sport athlete at Selwyn House, playing soccer, football, basketball, hockey, golf and tennis.

“I think that’s one of the great things about my parents is that they never put me into one sport and restricted me to one,” he said. “I got to play so many and my parents were always there watching and supporting me for everything I did.”

Molson only started playing football in Grade 10 after being convinced to try out by Selwyn House director of athletics Mike Maurovich and some friends. He became a receiver and defensive back, along with kicking. The next year, Molson made Team Quebec for the Canada Cup as a starting free safety and kicker. The following year at John Abbott, Molson realized his best shot at getting a U.S. scholarship was as a kicker so he focused on that position.

Molson said he was recruited by about 20 U.S. colleges and was offered a full scholarship to Arkansas State and later Alabama after kicking in front of legendary coach Nick Saban. But Molson’s dream was to attend UCLA and he reached out to Bruins head coach Jim Mora, who decided to match Saban’s offer.

“It was a pretty adventurous ride, honestly,” Molson said. “It’s crazy to think that I was there on the field Sunday night after just three years of kicking seriously. It’s pretty special.”

As for growing up with such a famous name, Molson said: “When kids find out here (at UCLA) they kind of not freak out, but they’re very interested. But back home there wasn’t really any pressure. Kids didn’t care that I was a Molson. I saw that on my John Abbott team … that was probably my best group of friends and they came from very different backgrounds from me.

“I came from a very fortunate upbringing compared to some of those kids and it made me realize the struggles that some of those kids had to go through. My best thing about Selwyn House and John Abbott is that those guys didn’t really care about my last name, they just cared about me as a person and we just enjoyed each other’s company. So there was no pressure being a Molson.”

There was a lot of pressure Sunday night, however, and J.J. certainly made his family proud.

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