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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Zendejas grateful to return as starter

Mike+Christy%2F+Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0AFootball+vs.+ASU.+
Mike Christy
Mike Christy/ Arizona Daily Wildcat Football vs. ASU.

Alex Zendejas slammed his helmet into the Arizona Stadium grass and stormed off the field in frustration. ASU had just blocked his second consecutive extra point to defeat the Arizona Wildcats 30-29 in double overtime on Dec. 2, 2010, as Zendejas’ miscues became the talk of Tucson.

He went on to miss two kicks in the Valero Alamo Bowl and eventually lost his starting job to junior college transfer Jaime Salazar heading into the 2011 season. So far this year, Salazar has underwhelmed through three games, going 1-for-4 with two big misses against Stanford on Saturday.

During Monday’s weekly press conference, head coach Mike Stoops said Zendejas will get the start this Saturday against No. 10 Oregon. His shot at redemption comes almost 10 months after the ASU debacle.

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

And the Wildcats need the senior more than ever. The lack of a solid kicker has left UA empty-handed on a handful of drives in its last two losses.

“The kicking game needs to improve. We need more consistency from a certain range and we have to be able to get points,” Stoops said. “It’s demoralizing. When you have a team that’s reeling a little bit, those are important plays.”

Zendejas’ time on the sidelines this season has given him a different perspective on how important he is to the Wildcats’ success.

“It’s completely different being on the sidelines having something you love so much and not being out there,” Zendejas said. “You take a step back and you can stake stuff for granted sometimes.”

Statistically, Zendejas was solid in 2010. He finished third in the Pacific 10 Conference in percentage, making 73.7 percent of his kicks, but it was the mental aspect of the game in clutch situations that doomed him.

Yet, the third-generation Arizona kicker still has the confidence of his teammates.

“You can say what you want to, but he’s done a good job. Since I’ve been playing he’s been a great kicker,” said quarterback Nick Foles. “Kickers miss field goals. You see it all the time. I think he just missed it on a spotlight stage and that’s tough.

“He’s shown it over and over again,” Foles added, “his statistics prove it and we’ll see what happens with him getting another opportunity, because I love Alex to death and I think he’s handled the thing better than anyone could.”

In his first start in front of ZonaZoo since the ASU nightmare, and against an Oregon team that he made both of his field goals and all three of his extra points last season — while pounding his chest at Oregon head coach Chip Kelly along the way — Zendejas can move past last year.

“He’s been sitting back and waiting for the opportunity, and the door’s open a little bit and we hope he’s the one,” said special teams coach Jeff Hammerschmidt. “We’ve got to get better in the kicking game, everyone knows that, and we’re hoping he’s the one to do it.”

They said it

“He’s been a rock. He’s gone through some stuff. The NAU game he went out there and they booed. How do you handle that?”

— Special teams coach Jeff Hammerschmidt

“I had enough motivation since last year, the ASU game. That was a lot of motivation right there just coming into the offseason. I feel like I’ve worked hard this offseason in the weight room and on the field. So the motivation came from last year.

— Senior Alex Zendejas

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