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Real Zorro gave Cats fans lots of kicks in 1980s

Freelance
SIMPSON COLUMN

The real Zorro didn’t wear a mask, save damsels and slash “Z’s” on the behinds of uniformed soldiers in Spanish and Mexican-era California of the 18th and 19th Centuries.

And he wasn’t Don Diego de la Vega. He was, and is, Maximillian Javier Zendejas.

A quarter-century ago, Max Zendejas was the best college football kicker in the country, a dominant offensive weapon for Larry Smith’s Arizona Wildcats.

Talented, good-natured, handsome and ferociously committed to driving a football through the goal posts from any distance, Max was the image of UA football during an exciting, often unbelievable era.

Not only did fans love him, Max was the perfect hero for Tucson’s large, immensely loyal Hispanic community.

He set field goal kicking records right and left, some of which may never be broken. He remains the all-time career scoring leader at Arizona.

And he simply destroyed the Arizona State Sun Devils, never losing to ASU in his entire career and beating them with never-to-be-forgotten last-minute field goals.

Max will be in town Saturday night for the Wildcats’ home-opener against Northern Arizona University.

Moreover, he will be the honorary chairman of Hispanic Heritage Day on October 20, when the Wildcats host Stanford.

He is one of the fabulous Zendejas family of kickers, numbering seven at this point and, with Alex Zendejas Jr. a freshman at Arizona, about to reach eight.

“Seven of us played college football and four of us made it to the pros,” Max said.

He is personally tutoring Alex Jr., whose father, Alex Zendejas, kicked at Scottsdale Community College. Alex Jr. was quoted somewhere as saying he wanted to break all of Max’s records at Arizona.

That’s a tall order. But could he?

“You know what? He has the potential and the athletic body,” Max said. “But the one thing that would stop everybody who wants to break my records is commitment, hard work and passion. I prepared every single day every summer before the season. That’s all I did. I had nothing else on my mind.”

Born in Curimeo, Michoacan, in Mexico in 1963, Max is the son of Joaquin Zendejas, once a professional soccer player, and his wife, Raquel.

The family moved to Chino, Calif., when Max was 8.

Instead of soccer, he became an American-style football player, like his cousins and brothers.

Brothers Luis and Alan kicked at Arizona State, Max at Arizona, cousins Marty and Tony at Nevada-Reno, Joaquin at LaVerne College in California and Alex Sr. at Scottsdale Community College.

Alex Jr. is next in that amazing line.

Max holds numerous Wildcat records, including career scoring (360 points), most field goals in a season (22), most field goals in a career (79), highest percentage for a career (.738), and is tied with Lee Pistor and Jon Prasuhn for longest field goal, 57 yards.

Max won the two games he played at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe during his career, which lasted from 1982-85.

In the 1983 game, Max beat ASU with a 45-yard field goal as time expired on CBS regional television and in front of 70,033 fans.

In 1985, before the largest sporting event crowd in Arizona history, 72,345, Max kicked his 57-yard field goal to tie the score at 13 with 5:29 left in the game, then booted the game-winner with 1:27 to play. That gave the Wildcats four straight wins over the distraught Devils.

Max was a living legend among UA football fans. But it’s typical of the guy that, even today, he credits not only coach Smith but his holders, Kevin Ward, Craig Schiller and Troy Lawton, and the snappers, Chris Kaesman and Mark Walczak, for his successful college career.

Was there one kick Max made that meant the most to him?

“Notre Dame has to be one of the best,” he said of his 48-yarder with no time left, in the direction of Touchdown Jesus at South Bend, Ind., to beat the Fighting Irish, 16-13, on Oct. 16, 1982.

Max was only a freshman.

“Then I had a good game against ASU when they came down here already celebrating the Rose Bowl they thought they were going to. That was great,” he said.

“My father was in the crowd with ball caps in both hands, one ASU and one UA. I looked up at him at the end of the game and he was wearing the Wildcat cap. I looked at Luis (the ASU star kicker) and he didn’t want to talk.”

Saturday night, hopefully Max will bump into his old coach, Smith, somewhere in Arizona Stadium. You can bet the Notre Dame game will come up.

But they’ll both have more fun talking about the “Z’s” Max put on Sun Devil behinds.

Corky Simpson retired from the Citizen sports staff in December. He writes a weekly column.

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