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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Salazar’s clutch game tabs him as kicker

Gordon+Bates+%2F+Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0AArizona+Wildcats+scrimmage+at+Arizona+Stadium+Saturday%2C+Aug+20%2C+2011.
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Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat Arizona Wildcats scrimmage at Arizona Stadium Saturday, Aug 20, 2011.

Despite popular belief, Alex Zendejas’ numbers aren’t nearly as bad as his reputation. The senior kicker made 73.7 percent of his field goals in 2010 – good for third in the Pacific 10 Conference – and drilled 7-of-9 attempts between 40 and 49 yards.

But as seen by his well-chronicled missed extra points against Arizona State University last season, among other late-game blunders, Zendejas lacked the clutch-factor the Wildcats have been missing with him as the starter.

Junior college transfer and Arizona’s new starting kicker, Jaime Salazar, is expected to be the Wildcats’ solution to their notorious kicking struggles, and he may just have that clutch factor that Arizona needs.

“He’s consistent, comfortable and collected, and he doesn’t get rattled,” said Arizona special teams coordinator Jeff Hammerschmidt. “From short range, his operation time, — getting rid of the ball quick and up in the air quick — will help, and then getting it through the uprights … sometimes it’s not pretty, but it goes through.”

The Trinity Valley Community College product is out to erase Zendejas’ meltdowns and finally give Wildcat fans a sense of relaxation when UA lines up for a field goal or extra point.

“Z started (last season) off very well, but they were missing in the clutch game and coach said I’ve got the clutch game, and I’ve proven that I do so we’ll see from there,” Salazar said.

If his junior college numbers are any indication, Salazar could be the man for the job. He earned second-team National Junior College Athletic Association All-American honors in 2010 and made 14-of-15 field goals while ranking second in the NJCAA in kick scoring with 83 points.

Although Salazar wasn’t all too impressed with his training camp performance, UA coaches tracked each and every kick over the course of every practice and scrimmage, and he won the battle against Zendejas. Coaches put both kickers in pressure situations and two-minute drills throughout training camp, Hammerschmidt said, and it was Salazar who came out on top.

“It was close, but it was just the numbers from charting through camp and then the week down the stretch before that last scrimmage,” Hammerschmidt said. “We just stayed with our deal, whoever was the most consistent and the nod goes to Jaime. “He’s our guy. We’re going to go with him. We feel good with him.”

Salazar said he’s hoping to make 100 percent of his kicks from 45 yards and in, while cashing in on the majority of kicks deeper than that. But will Salazar be able to withstand the pressure and mental strain that comes with being a kicker? Will the words “Arizona” and “mixed extra points” no longer be used in the same sentence?

“We hope so. We’re all banking on that,” Hammerschmidt said with a laugh. “We do see that (in Salazar) and I think that’s a big part. Alex is a heck of a kicker but the numbers came out and as you looked at it, it’s like a batting average — the guy who kicked it through the most consistently was Jaime. It was barely, but that’s who we’re going to go with.”

As of now, Salazar will be Arizona’s starter come next Saturday against NAU. He’ll make his Division I debut while hoping to give Wildcats fans a glimpse of that ice-water-in-his-veins demeanor he said he possesses.

But despite all of that, it’s a long season and if Salazar falters, Zendejas is right behind him fighting to earn his job back.

“It’s hard because you’ve worked so hard and Alex is such an amazing hard worker, it means so much to him. It hurts, and I know it does,” Hammerschmidt said. “But he’ll fight through it and it’s a long season; that’s how this thing works.

“Crazy things happen so who knows where we’ll be by the end of the season.”

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