San Diego State punter Matt Araiza kicked him out of the end zone and nailed the Air Force into his No. 20 ball with a huge 81-yard punt. (0:32)
You are a linebacker, ready to rush to the opponent kicker, trying to stop his shot. You break through, but not fast enough; if you play well, you will eventually break into the bracket. Suddenly, the kicker is on your face, pointing his finger at you and yelling at you. He will not let you shoot at his holder. Not this kicker.
Maybe you are a wide receiver who wants to return to the punt. You are standing near your own 35 yard line because the ball was intercepted within the 10 yard line on the opposite side. Of course, you think the punt will not exceed 70 yards. But the ball explodes from the kicker's leg, and you will find yourself taking a step back, taking a step back, and then taking a step back. The ball hits the ground and ends up within your own 20 yard line. The field has been flipped.
Or maybe you are a teammate ready to exercise. You walk into the weight room and prepare to do some heavy squats, and you see that the kicker is placed on a nearby shelf, squatting down the weight you are about to fight-and it's easy. Think to yourself: This is not a normal kicker.
Matt Araiza is not a typical kicker. His left leg is a Swiss army knife, which can propel the punt, nail the shot and smash the tee. His brain processes all of this into part golf swing, part football shot, and part mathematical equations. His passion is awe-inspiring by coaches and teammates past and present. This often makes him one of the most competitive players on the court, ready to tackle tackles as easily as trash talk, and prompts him to do all he can to ensure that people respect him and his expert colleagues.
This season, Araiza has become a kicking phenomenon and offensive weapon for the San Diego State Aztec team, which tends to be 8-1 defensively. He has multiple 50-yard field goal percentages and an 83% return rate (top 10 in the country with at least 40 kick-offs). He has two punts over 80 yards, six punts over 70 yards, and an NCAA record of 15 punts over 60 yards. He averaged 363 yards per game and 52 yards per punt (all in Ranked first in the country). He is working hard to break the record for most punt yards in a season, and he is also expected to break the record for the most punt yards per punt. It was those punts that looked like tampered videos that turned Araiza into a carrier of viral videos.
"All of this is crazy to me. I didn't expect to receive so much attention because of playing football," Araiza told ESPN last week. "But if I can make a little change in the narrative that everyone thinks of kickers and punters, I'll be very happy."
Araiza's path to honor and social media fame did not happen overnight, but just a few months ago, he found himself in trouble. He thinks he may quit his starting role unless he succumbs and solves the problem. He did it, and then did some.
"I know there is talent and leg strength there," said Tyler Holcomb, who was the holder of Alaza's three seasons at Rancho Bernardo High School. "And he works very hard, but I don't know if you can count on someone to be the best gambler in this country."
Located in the North County Park in Poway, California, just 25 miles north of downtown San Diego, Araiza, a 5-year-old child with his left foot, first learned about the areas where leg strength is not as important as technique, hand-eye coordination and repetition. There, his father Rico, who was born in Mexico, would let him practice football over and over again, such as one-key pass and shooting from different angles and positions of his legs. These days, Araiza can hit 48 yards with his left leg.
"I do remember that everyone was impressed with how far I can play at my age," Araiza said. "I may always be one or two years ahead."
Growing up, football seemed violent to Araiza. He was interested in becoming a professional football player, but when he entered high school, he was already playing football in the local park and considered trying to play football. His father pushed him, his mother felt relieved, and his teammates sent a message to the football coach: There is a football player who wants to play.
It didn't take long for the coaches to realize that there was something special about this tall athlete who was as fast and tall as anyone on the team at the time. Araiza, who was only 14 years old, scored a goal from 40 yards. His legs have always been strong, but until he started playing on the football field, he never had a yardstick to measure it.
"He doesn't seem to have to overswing, the ball just exploded from his feet," said Tristan McCoy, Araiza's high school coach. "It seems effortless to be with him."
When San Diego State University special team coach Doug Deakin was an operations assistant at SDSU, he first watched Araiza's prospects as a high school student on videotape. He was impressed, and the Aztecs offered Araiza a scholarship without hesitation. However, Deakin was not prepared for the sound made by Araiza's foot. When Araiza came to campus and started playing 60 yards or more as a freshman, Deakin was fascinated by the sound; he still is. When Araiza is playing, you can almost hear how far it will go.
Dickin said: "The ball kicked off his foot did not sound the same." "It climbed immediately."
Both McCoy and Araiza's current coach Brady Hoke mentioned that Araiza immediately changed the way they attacked, especially in the case of the fourth shot, because they knew Araiza could and is likely to reverse the situation.
"You think a bit far, you know what kind of weapons we have," Hawke said. "Really, I'm just happy to see him go out and do his thing."
As McCoy pointed out, people didn't watch Araiza play in high school, but when the game ended, they couldn't help commenting on his talent. Soon, Rancho Bernardo's joke is that they don't need to practice kick-off coverage because Araiza is an automatic return machine.
Asking Araiza to explain how he became an elite kicker requires less romanticism and more background. First of all, you must understand that he is a computer science student, he knows that if expressed in a quantitative way, he can better grasp the concept. If there is a formula for a perfect kick, Araiza is working hard to define it.
"From the time I move quickly to the time I kick the ball, it needs to be within 2.1 seconds," Araiza said. "And the snapshot takes about 0.7 seconds. So this leaves me about 1.4 or 1.3 seconds."
Now listening to him talking about playing football, you can see how fascinated Araiza is in every detail-from the number of steps he scores to the way he leans forward. Araiza said that when he arrived at SDSU, he stagnated, catching the ball with his feet on the ground. Now, he is more involved and accumulates more motivation.
"He has a very relaxed pace and uses a lot of hip rotation in his punt and field goal swings," said former NFL kicker Filip Filipović, who now runs a kicking clinic that has Many NFL kickers serve as alumni. "There is always a thin line of hip rotation. More hip rotation equals more strength, but the stability is less...In general, he looks like a very well-rounded athlete with quick leg movements. Solid playing skills."
As Araiza said, the method of the kicker depends not only on his leg strength, but also on his height and weight. He identified the NFL kicker most similar to him (Jack Bailey of the Patriots) and studied him.
The second thing you must know about Araiza is that he is a golfer. Although he is a logical thinker driven by mathematical concepts, he also recognizes that playing football is an art. He is willing to try things, change things, and even accept a short-term return as part of the necessary growth. In addition, Araiza knows as well as anyone that you can only prepare so much. If you shoot badly suddenly, logic will disappear and instinct will begin.
"The analogy of golf is like, you have to be able to find your hand on the shot," Araiza said. "This kind of coordination can save people. For me, this kind of coordination and athleticism can save me when I should hit a bad ball. I don't have to swing too hard just because your foot finds the ball."
The third thing you must know about Araiza is that despite his talent, he has to put in work. Just a few months ago, he just finished a season. In his own words, he is not ready to deal with all three aspects of playing football, so his shooting percentage has been affected. The reality that he might actually not be able to continue his playing career after college frightened him, so he responded.
"In this offseason, I work harder than ever before," Araiza said.
He did not overwork his legs, nor did he add more kicks to his daily activities, but he made sure that every kick was important.
"I remember texting my dad and telling him that I want this more than anything I want in my life," Araiza said. "And I think this mentality and that kind of motivation help me a lot."
Through all this, Araiza has realized that even though he is most comfortable with kicking as a science, it usually comes down to emotions.
Don't tell Araiza to stay calm.
His firepower is part of the package, even if it got him a red card and was kicked out of the game before. Coaches and teammates can recall that their biggest concern is not whether Araiza's shot will pass through the post, but whether he will be marked as unsportsmanlike after entering the defender's face if he gets close to his leg. Or when he feels very upset because of a mistake, he throws the ball angrily. Holcomb recalled a game in the high school playoffs when he was holding the ball for Araiza and a linebacker crushed him to death on his blind side. Araiza immediately charged the linebacker and blocked his face because of a blind attack on Holcomb, and the two had to separate.
"It's never been out of control or bad exercise," McCoy said. "It's just that he is too involved in the game, wants to succeed, wants to win, you know, sometimes he loses his composure."
Araiza remembers that the coach told him in the past that he could not react to the fluctuations of the game like a normal player. He needs to stay calm just in case he has to be called under high pressure. However, this year, he realized that it would not work for him. His devotion to the game and his competitive nature make him more suitable for playing a role in the ups and downs of the game.
"I just let my emotions show after the punt or the shot or the tackle I made," Araiza said. "I think it helps to motivate me and help me perform better."
His coach also learned this. In addition to letting him follow conventions in practice, they also made sure to put him in a dangerous, high-pressure environment. At SDSU, Araiza had to compete with John Baron, who maintained a single-season field goal percentage record, and followed him until Araiza broke this record as a red-shirt freshman in 2019 (22 times), as well as all conference bettors Brandon Heicklen. Both McCoy and Deakin turned Araiza's kick into a last-second basketball shot and punishment for the team, depending on whether Araiza can hit the ball.
"When we shoot, it's in front of the entire team," Deakin said. "Often there will be consequences, whether it's another blow to the team if he doesn't succeed, or it's just a personal pressure not to let his teammates down in front of them."
Being considered a member of the team is essential to Araiza. He once told Deakin that if he overheard any other players say bad things about experts, whether it is the ball holder or the kicker, let him know that he will confront them. Of course, everything about Araiza's manners translates into respect. When the team runs, he runs. When the team raised, he raised. Hawke compared him to former Michigan kicker Jay Feely, who always wanted to tackle the ball after his kick. It is shocking how Araiza has transformed from seeing football as a violent sport he watched from a distance into his own playground.
"I think he is rewriting people's views on expert positions," Deakin said.
Even in the rare cases where he made mistakes, Araiza still found a way to make an impression. Deakin remembers a game against UCLA in 2019. Alaza missed the sweet spot at the kickoff and blew a ball, which led to the return of the Bruins. It was Araiza who tracked the returner and solved him, but when he returned to the SDSU sideline, Araiza was frustrated with the missed kick. Dickin praised him, "Hey, good game."
Alassa fought back. "Yeah, this is what you should do."