Arizona football: Zendejas' second chance

2011-09-21T00:01:00Z 2013-09-17T15:56:47Z Arizona football: Zendejas' second chanceRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 21, 2011 12:01 am  • 

Alex Zendejas watched the last three games from the sidelines, his career at a standstill.

The UA senior place-kicker's viewpoint changed.

"It's completely different," Zendejas said. "Being on the sidelines and having something you love so much, and you can't be out there. … You realize you can't take stuff for granted sometimes."

It's a main reason Zendejas isn't just happy to be the Arizona Wildcats' starter again. He is, in his own words, "grateful and blessed to get another chance."

"I've continued to work, to practice and prepare like I was going to play," he said. "I haven't taken a day off."

Arizona's coaches are just hoping he'll deliver on Saturdays.

Jaime Salazar was demoted to second string after missing two of three field goal attempts in last weekend's 37-10 loss to No. 5 Stanford at Arizona Stadium. Zendejas, who was used for a PAT in Week 1 - he made it - was installed as the starter, and will kick Saturday against No. 10 Oregon.

The switch marks a role reversal. Salazar was named the team's starter before the UA's season opener against Northern Arizona, in part because he hit more kicks in practice. Special teams coach Jeff Hammerschmidt said the kickers were nearly even, but "at the time, we just had to make a decision and go with it."

"Alex understood - he wasn't real happy, but he understood," Hammerschmidt said. "He knew there was going to be another opportunity at some point and, right now, the opportunity's open."

Starting is familiar territory: Zendejas led the Wildcats with 172 points in 2009 and 2010. He has hit 75 percent (31 of 41) of his career field goal attempts over 29 career starts and is 79 for 87 PAT kicks.

Yet Zendejas, 22, remains a polarizing character for UA fans.

He hit the game-winning field goal in Arizona's 20-17 win over rival Arizona State in 2009 and was consistent - if not always pretty - for most of 2010 until he fell apart at the end of the season.

Zendejas missed two PATs, including one that would have vaulted the UA to a dramatic win over rival Arizona State, and the Sun Devils won 30-29. He then missed two field goals in the UA's Alamo Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.

Since then, fan reaction has been mixed. Zendejas was cheered when he hit a 50-yard field goal in the spring game but booed when he lined up to kick a PAT earlier this month against NAU.

Zendejas, and his teammates, noticed.

"People need to be more behind him. Nothing's worse than coming on the field and people are booing you - especially your home crowd," punter Kyle Dugandzic said. "When he feels the crowd's behind him, he kicks the ball - I've never seen anybody hit the ball as hard as him.

"He's a great kicker. I'm happy for him to get a second chance."

Zendejas grinned when asked if he was motivated to keep the starting job. After 10 months of grief and three games on the sidelines, he's ready.

"I've had enough motivation since last year," he said. "The ASU game, that's a lot of motivation right there."

Back in the saddle

After losing the starting kicking job before the season opener, Alex Zendejas has it back. Here are his career stats:

31-41

Field goal makes and attempts (75 percent)

79-87

PAT makes and attempts (91 percent)

Up next

• What: Oregon at Arizona

• When: 7:15 p.m. Saturday

• TV; radio: ESPN2; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Sp)

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