'One game isn't going to define me': Former UA kicker Alex Zendejas gets 2nd chance with Rattlers

Posted at 9:36 AM, Jul 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-01 12:36:19-04

In 2009, Alex Zendejas hit a 32-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Arizona Wildcats past archrival ASU in Tempe.

In a fair world, it would have been the defining moment of Zendejas’ career.

“(Fans will) come up to me and I’ll introduce myself as Alex Zendejas, and they’re like, ‘Oh, the one that went to UA. The one that had that game,’” he said.

“And I always joke, ‘Oh yeah, the game-winning kick?’ No, that’s not the game they’re talking about.”

Instead, Zendejas is remembered as the man who had not one but two extra points blocked at the end of the 2010 Territorial Cup matchup in Tucson, giving ASU a 30-29 victory in double overtime.

Zendejas, a graduate of Ironwood High School in Glendale, is yet to hear the end of it – not just from ASU fans, but from fellow Wildcat alumni.

“You have the true fans that always pat me on the back (and say), ‘Good job, we enjoyed watching you,’” he said. “But you have a couple that will give you (a hard time).”

It would have been easy for Zendejas to forget about kicking – and for a short time, he did.

“After UA, it kind of ended a little tough over there, so when I got back to Phoenix, I started working with kids and decided to take a little time off kicking,” he said. “I’ve been doing private kicking lessons around the state for the past four years and I’ve also coached high-school special teams each year.”

But last year, Zendejas received something that far too many athletes in his position don’t: a second chance.

"I enjoy the program, what they did for me. I'll support (UA) for the rest of my life."

Last summer, he got a call from the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League, who found themselves in need of a kicker late in the season. Zendejas accepted the temporary gig, which turned into a full-time job with the team this year.

It’s a fitting outcome for a man whose surname is synonymous with kicking.

Three of Zendejas’ uncles have kicked for UA or ASU. Max Zendejas hit game-winning field goals for the Wildcats against ASU in 1983 and ’85, and Luis and Alan Zendejas kicked for the archrival Sun Devils in the 1980s.

Max and Luis both went on to play in the NFL, and Luis kicked for the Rattlers from 1992-95.

“To kind of be in the same shoes they were in as far as playing Division I football, playing professional football here, it’s big,” Zendejas said. “I’m having fun doing it and enjoying it.”

Zendejas’ kicking career has come full circle. His time at UA began well enough – he made 17 of 22 field-goal attempts in 2009, and he was named the Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week after his game-winner against ASU that year.

But the results of the 2010 Territorial Cup had a lasting effect on Zendejas, and it cost him his starting job at UA the following year.

It wasn’t easy, but Zendejas has put those memories behind him -- even if some fans, including a handful of ASU alumni who also support the local arena football club, don’t want to let him.

“Yeah, I’ve had that a little bit,” Zendejas said about the taunting he receives to this day.

“But like I say: I’m a Rattler now. We’re all part of the same team.”

“I’ve always had a little bit of confidence in myself. One game, one kick isn’t going to define me as an athlete."

Zendejas has made the most of that rare second chance. He’s connected on 77 of 91 extra-point attempts with the Rattlers this year -- an impressive number considering AFL goalposts are just nine feet wide, less than half the width of NFL and NCAA goalposts.

When his kicking career is over, Zendejas would like to remain involved in football, whether that means training kids or possibly following in the footsteps of his Uncle Luis, who’s now the senior director of community relations for the Arizona Cardinals.

But with all due respect to his uncles who kicked for the Sun Devils, Alex remains a Wildcat fan, despite the way his time ended in Tucson.

“I always follow their seasons. I enjoy watching what Coach RichRod’s doing down there,” he said. “The program’s going in the right direction. (Athletic director) Greg Byrne, he’s done a lot for that program as far as facilities.

“I don’t have nothing against UA football. I enjoy the program, what they did for me. Just the opportunity to play Division I football, to go to school on a full scholarship, there’s no hard feelings. I’ll support them for the rest of my life.”

Zendejas can’t go back in time and change what happened at Arizona Stadium on Dec. 2, 2010 – but the passage of time has allowed him to look back on his collegiate career with fondness rather than frustration, and carry on his family name in the pro football ranks.

“What was that, six years ago? The past is the past. Can’t think about yesterday,” he said.

“I’ve always had a little bit of confidence in myself. One game, one kick isn’t going to define me as an athlete. I mean, maybe to some people it will, but I enjoy doing this. I love doing it. I love working at it. I’m pretty confident in what I can do.”