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Arizona’s kicking name holds strong

Despite ups and downs, Zendejas’ name shouldn’t be known for anything but family

If you think your last name holds meaning to people outside your family, how do you think Arizona kicker Alex Zendejas feels?

There’s a family-named burrito shop across the street from where he plays football, for goodness’ sake. Then there’s that whole Zendejas family kicking legacy.

Uncle Max Zendejas was an All-American kicker at Arizona in 1985, uncles Luis and Alan kicked for the rival ASU Sun Devils, and another uncle, Tony, kicked at the University of Nevada, Reno. His own father, Alex Sr., kicked at Scottsdale Community College.

So there’s some pressure — just a little — on Alex Jr. to uphold the family name.

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When he hit a game-winning kick to defeat the ASU Sun Devils two years ago in Tempe, it was fitting, considering his family’s history.

But then last year happened.

Zendejas had two extra points blocked against ASU at Arizona Stadium and the Wildcats lost 30-29 in double overtime. Since then, he lost his job this offseason to junior college transfer Jaime Salazar. But Salazar struggled this season, and Zendejas, a senior, was named the starter for tomorrow’s game against No. 10 Oregon.

You now wonder where Zendejas’ head is at.

Those two missed extra points seemingly defined the 2010 season. I guess it’s naturally a more iconic microcosm of the season than the five-game losing streak to finish the year or the bludgeoning of the Wildcats at the Valero Alamo Bowl.

And after those two missed extra points defined the 2010 season, I’m sure his family disowned him and told him to quit afterward.
I’m kidding.

The elder Zendejases probably consoled Alex. They probably told him to take it as a lesson, a bump in the road that comes with the territory of being a kicker, one of the most alienating and pressure-packed positions in sports. What’s a family for?

Of course, the mere fact of his last name meant there was more to it.

His name is attached to the state of Arizona’s kicking family, and there wasn’t a hole to climb into and quit. In fact, Zendejas told the Daily Wildcat that he had a class presentation the day after the nationally televised Thursday game against the Sun Devils.
That couldn’t have gone well.

Since, the crowds at Arizona Stadium have only acknowledged Zendejas with jeers, and if he’s lucky, sarcastic cheers. Obviously, his coaches lost confidence in him, too.

So as he regains his role as the starting kicker for the Wildcats, is he a better football player after going through the pitfalls of public scrutiny? We don’t know.

“I’ve continued to work, I’ve continued to practice like I was going to play. I haven’t taken a day off,” Zendejas told the Daily Wildcat earlier this week. “I’m just grateful and blessed to have another opportunity out here.”

But is he a better man for going through it all?

“He’s a been a rock,” special teams coach Jeff Hammerschmidt told the Daily Wildcat. “He’s gone through some stuff. The NAU game he went out there and they booed. How do you handle that?”
So however this game — and the year — turns out, no matter what vulgar words cut through the roar of the drunken ZonaZoo, Zendejas can still proudly say he’s a Zendejas.

He can say that without thinking a split-second about football.

— Kevin Zimmerman is the sports editor. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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UA COVID-19 Test Tracker

Daily (12/4)
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Total (8/2)
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Includes tests since August 2, 2021
Data from https://covid19.arizona.edu/updates
Updated December 5, 2021