We’ve all heard the nicknames this season. Iron Leg, Swiss Army knife, The Anomaly, … Punt God. While Matt Araiza’s whirlwind of a 2021 year ascended to the Ray Guy Award and All-American status, the young man from Rancho Bernardo high shy’s away from each and every one.
When time came for Sons of Montezuma to create Matt Araiza’s T-shirt deal we had in agreement for the kicking phenom, the obvious choice was PUNT GOD. Big and bold on the front, back, sleeve, wherever we could put it, right?! The name is marketing GOLD.
In an age where any extra bucks in a young college kids pockets for fun on the weekends is appreciated, Matt Araiza established very quickly with us just how much character the young man is instilled with.
“To be honest, Punt God is the only thing I don’t want on any of the shirts” Matt replied quickly to us. The junior class student-athlete for the San Diego State football team turned down the opportunity to cash in big-time with that moniker.
There’s a lot to a name. Given to you by your parents, it often times can positively or negatively shape your self esteem and how others perceive you as well.
But nicknames can take on a life of their own. Get labeled with the wrong one and you will be known that ways forever—despite who your mommy & daddy decided to legally call you.
“I know it’s already taken off, but I just don’t want it to come from me or anyone I’m working with.”
Referring to himself as a God of any kind, is just not Matt’s style. He’s far too wise and way more respectful to fall into that sort of mentality for himself. It’s a quality that is sure to translate well into the pros where often young millionaires allow their ego—not their performance take the spotlight on the big stage.
So when time came for Sons of Montezuma to settle in on how we wanted to reference Matt, our subtle play of the almighty’s nickname of punting was clear. I mean hey, we at Sons of Montezuma can have a little tongue in cheek fun right? A little irreverence is good for the soul occasionally.
Our T-shirt of Matt’s ‘Creazione di Boom’ was complete (Creation of BOOM—a spinoff of ‘La Creazione di Adamo’ The Creation of Adam, a painting by the master Michaelangelo). We knew we found that sweet spot of respect, cheekiness, and the old tip of the cap to all you PUNT GOD worshippers out there.
But in terms of an accurate nickname that fits Matt the best, we may have stuck with an equally controversial one. We give full credit to former NFL Network & ESPN host/analyst Rich Eisen on this one.
The most effective weapons in the world all go through a rigorous development process. Perfecting the weapons abilities takes days, months, even years. If it’s important enough, that development is often spent in the secrecy of shadows, being queued up for just the right moment of use. When it is ready to be loaded and fully utilized, the devastation is often over before the victim knows what hit ’em.
Such can be said for kicking specialist, the Aztecs weapon of choice Matt Araiza.
In just one full football season of punting duties for San Diego State, Matt Araiza took the College football world by storm and effectively destroyed the specialist position as we knew it for so long.
On his opening game as the punter, Araiza put together the kind of performance that brought about encores all season long. Against New Mexico State, Araiza sent 9 booming punts on the evening with a 56.8 yard average, a 77 yard long blast, and four of them inside the 20 yard line.
Two games later, in an incredible victory over PAC-12 Utah, Matt made his name known on the National scene when he ruthlessly tracked down the Utes’ standout return man Britain Covey. Covey in the first half put the Utes up first with a touchdown punt return. This obviously didn’t sit well with the competitor in Araiza.
The next punts were met with ferocious hits and trash talk between the two. In the end, it was Araiza who got the best of the battle and shut down Covey each time he went back to field a booming punt. The highlights made national replays and have become Araiza’s signature plays in terms of his tackling prowess.
Coming out of Rancho Bernardo High, Matt was fueled by his older brother and father to push for a transition from soccer star to football star. Araiza didn’t follow after the popular mass ranking camps where scouts monitor over 400 kids at a time with clipboards and charts. However he did go to an SDSU skills camp where he caught the interest of the staff and which he credits those early visits for his eventual scholarship offer at the 11th hour.
“SDSU gave me a bit of an ultimatum offer, but it was the biggest offer I had by far and the school I wanted to play for. So it was kind of a no-brainer and I’m definitely happy that I did.”
And that was fine by the Araiza family. It was Matt’s father who had seen something special in his son that allowed for that boldness and confidence to take the unconventional route.
“My dad called it very early on. He told me in high school, I don’t think you’re going to spend all five years in college. There were times I thought he was dead wrong and he turned out to be right on.”
Although there is no shortage of confidence to young Matt’s abilities, the specialist had some excellent veterans ahead of him that guided him along the way those early years in the program.
“It was really good to be behind some really good seniors. I come to college and I get to see a true Pro. Even though he was still in college (John Baron) he performed and practiced like a pro. I got to see that and learn from that. Being under John and just learning his process was huge for me.”
Despite all the hard work Matt had purposefully put himself through to get to this point, the unanimous All-American and Ray Guy Award winner didn’t envision becoming a household name in college football.
Matt has bigger plans to attack.
Watch our full Matt Araiza Podcast Interview, where we talk more about the punters time at SDSU and expectations for the NFL listed here in the article! Subscribe anywhere podcasts are available!
When scouts & experts wanted to raise his hang time to the NFL rules and style of play, Araiza did just that and with an incredibly quick learning curve.
“The two biggest things were adding hang time and adding better direction. I’m very happy with the progress I’ve made. I’ve had multiple coaches say they were surprised with the growth between the season and combine, and then another significant growth between combine and pro day. It’s only been 3 or 4 months focusing in on that so I’m excited to see how after a couple years go.”
While NFL coaches at the combine want to put his tough guy attitude in place, Matt is unfazed.
“At the combine we did this round table interview, we sat down 10-12 coaches at the table analyzing your weaknesses, asking you questions—and then we got to the tackling. There was a coach who looked me in the eyes and said, if we play you I’m going to send someone at you specifically and you’re not going to enjoy it. I had to be very respectful and had to laugh it off. But I wanted to tell him deep down, I hope you do.
I really want to continue the exact same things I did in the college in the pros.”
“If you can have a punter that can go up there and make tackles, it’s huge! People make it sound like the punter can never make consistent tackles. I really believe if we can continue to grow and practice this, it can be an asset. And maybe in the future one of the prerequisites for a punter is that you have to be able to tackle. It can bring more value to the position, notoriety and help punt units be more efficient and help their teams more.”
Making the tackle is by far Matt’s favorite part. And the chance to change the game, to increase the value of the punter position is very well researched in his mind. It is what he is aiming to do.
“The average win shares which is pretty much the players value to a team, the average kicker and running back is just about equal—which is a crazy thing. A running back is the tough position, and you see kicker’s and it’s like you’re not a real football player. But the stats don’t support that all.”
“I think as time goes on, the money in football, the way they disperse the salaries and the way the fans value players on the team is going to change a little bit. The specialists are going to be a little more important.”
To blow up the NFL’s perception of a punter’s importance is perhaps mission impossible. But Matt Araiza may just be the weapon to make that mission impossible–POSSIBLE.
The mission begins Thursday, April 28 in Las Vegas, NV.
Don’t forget our mid season Matt Araiza Film Room analysis with Coach C!