San Diego State’s Matt Araiza’s recent 86-yard punt came with a price.
“Someone head-butted me really hard after I did it,” said Araiza, a Rancho Bernardo High product. “But I’ll take it.”
The Aztecs cart a 6-0 record into Saturday’s game at the Air Force Academy. It marks the second time in 46 years that SDSU has delivered a six-pack of wins to christen a season.
That deserves a toast and if raising a glass, don’t forget to clink glasses over Araiza and his amazing left leg.
Araiza basically 86’d San Jose State’s chances of winning in double overtime last week as he consistently pinned the Spartans deep in their territory with his punting. Although Araiza is no one-kick pony as his career-high 53-yard field goal was another significant contribution to keep the No. 22-ranked Aztecs’ winning streak alive.
Like with his epic punt, Araiza shrugs when mentioning his field goal, the sixth-longest in school history.
“Anything inside of 60 yards, I have a ton of confidence,” Araiza said.
The junior isn’t lacking in faith and it’s easy to see why.
Araiza, an ESPN and AP Midseason All-American selection, leads the nation in punt average (53.8), total punt yards (2,154) and punt yards per game (359). It was his stellar, and clutch, night against SJSU that led to Araiza being named the Mountain West Conference special teams player of the week for the second time this season and the third occasion in his career.
That big leg that has Araiza being showered with praise hasn’t led to a big head, so says SDSU special teams coach Doug Deakin.
“I think that is who he is and it’s a testament to his parents (Rico and Kerry),” Deakin said. “The most important thing to him is his next kick. That is his mind-set and speaks to the type of guy he is.”
The type of environment he’ll play in Saturday could supply more of a boost. Araiza, when performing at high altitude, calculates his kicks receive an extra 10 yards and the hang time increases by a half-second.
“It makes a big difference,” Araiza said. “I can’t wait to see how it goes.”
It’s rare for a kicker to be a marquee player. The accolades that usually are reserved for quarterbacks, running backs and pass-rushers are being directed to Araiza and it’s hard to ignore.
Unless you’re the 6-foot-2 Araiza, a junior with skill, savvy and a solid sense of himself.
“One of my rules is that I don’t let other people’s opinions of me change how I see myself because that can go both ways,” he said. “If you start letting all the praise lift you up and it goes away, will that confidence go back down?”
Good question and Araiza, an interdisciplinary studies major, has the answer.
“I find my confidence in my work ethic,” he said. “If I go out there and prepare myself that week, and in the offseason, to the best of my ability, then I can go out there with confidence with every swing.”
It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing and Araiza proved that against SJSU. He accounted for seven of the team’s 19 points, was true on his kickoffs and one particular punt that might still be rolling. Araiza booted it from 2 yards deep into his end zone to the Spartans’ 3-yard-line.
“I look up and I could tell what kind of ball it is going to be because it was turning over perfectly,” Araiza said. “When I saw the returner running backward, I knew he probably wasn’t going to catch it.”
Araiza’s next effort comes at Colorado Springs, where the locals crow about going off into the wild blue yonder. If Air Force radar spots an unidentified object, relax. It’s likely just another Araiza punt.