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New heights: Zendejas motivated by last season’s blocked kicks

Alex Zendejas throws his helmet after having an extra point attempt blocked at the end of the second overtime against ASU last season. Photo by Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE

Alex Zendejas didn’t run away from trouble. Now, he has to fix it.

His name became something of a curse word for Arizona Wildcats fans late last season. You know the details. Two low extra point attempts — one in the final minute of regulation, one at the end of the second overtime — were blocked by Arizona State.

Those kicks were the flashpoints in a 30-29 home loss.

Zendejas followed up with another uneven kicking performance in the Alamo Bowl, missing two of three field goal tries.

“I hear it from every angle still,” Zendejas said earlier this week, talking about fan reaction.

“But I never considered leaving. I was here. I wanted to finish out here. I mean, it’s been tough … but it’s not who I am. I’m not going to run away from something that’s happened.

“I love this school. I love the program, the coaches, the players. It was never my intention to leave. I love it here.”

Zendejas is preparing for his senior season, and he and special teams coach Jeff Hammerschmidt know there is no margin of error.

Zenedejas has new competition, not only from kickoff man John Bonano – who has been “kicking great,” Hammerschmidt said — but from junior college transfer Jaimie Salazar, who will arrive for fall camp.

“I honestly expected it. It’s what they had to do,” Zendejas said of the coaches bringing in a junior college transfer.

“It’s part of college life. You’re always having someone come in competing for the job. They recruited freshmen for every other position to compete.”

How does Zendejas get better this spring and hold off the competition?

In practice, to focus on elevation, the coaches have put tackling dummies 3 yards in front of the kickers. Those tackling dummies are about 6 feet high.

“From 3 yards out, they look really big,” Zendejas said.

At other times, a linebacker will be holding blocking pads above his head as he tries to block the attempt, again giving the kicker reason to focus on height.

“I feel good,” Zendejas said. “I’m starting to get a lot more elevation on the ball. Doing that over and over, it doesn’t make you think about it as much, I guess.”

Alex Zendejas celebrates after beating ASU with a last-second kick in 2009. Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Zendejas’ accuracy on field goals has been fine — 31 of 41 in two years as the starter — although the coaches don’t often test his range. But the low kicks were nothing new. They happened from time to time … and the Arizona State game was the worst possible time.

Arizona has missed eight extra-point attempts in the past two seasons.

“We’ll be OK,” Hammerschmidt said of the place-kicking, before adding, “or I won’t be here.”

Zendejas said he’s had plenty of support from his famous kicking family, and he hopes to use the memory of last season in just the right dose.

Can’t think about it too much; that’s just unwanted added pressure. Can’t ignore it, either.

“It’s definitely some motivation to come back and work your butt off. It’s a little extra push,” Zendejas said. “It’s hard to forget something like that. I’ve learned a lot since December.”

He can’t change what happened in December. His game-winning, last-second field goal at Arizona State in 2009 seems all but forgotten.

What will 2011 bring — glory, agony or a season on the bench?

For now, there’s only one thing do.

“Just focus on consistency, give it my all every practice and get the most out of every day,” Zendejas said. “That’s all I can do, right?”

Fans can get a look at the kicking game and everything else at Saturday’s spring-ending scrimmage at Arizona Stadium. The scrimmage will begin at 1:30 p.m.

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