Jaime Salazar is clutch. Just ask him.
And if there is one thing the Arizona Wildcats need from their place-kicker these days, it’s confidence and “clutchiness” as Alex Zendejas tries to clear his head from those two blocked extra points against Arizona State.
“Z started the season very well but he missed them in the clutch game,” said Salazar, a junior college transfer who won the starting place-kicking job in camp.
“Coach said I have the clutch game and I have been proving that I do. So, we’ll see there.”
Salazar cited a couple of clutch examples from his days at Trinity Valley Community College in Texas and Garland (Texas) High School. As for what he will do in front of 50,000-plus at Arizona Stadium and in other pressure-cookers around the Pac-12 … well, like he said, we’ll see.
At this point, the coaches are willing to try something new, but it’s not just a gut feeling on Salazar. After compiling and examining all the kicking stats from fall camp, Salazar simply came out ahead.
“Alex is a heck of a kicker, but numbers-wise … as you looked at it, the guy who kicked it through was Jaime,” said special teams coach Jeff Hammerschmidt. “It was just barely, but that’s who we’re going to with.”
Playing amateur psychologist here after a four-minute conversation with him, but Salazar seems to have a certain “I’ve got this” calmness about him.
“I just kick it. I don’t let anything get in my mind,” he said.
“They always say kickers have an easy job, and we do. We have to kick. That’s what we do. We’re supposed to make it.”
Arizona, seeking junior college help after last season, looked at a small pool of kickers and delved deeper into scouting Salazar after seeing he made 14 of 15 field goals last season (he said his miss came from 55 yards).
“We watched film, we went and saw him in person,” Hammerschmidt said. “It wasn’t super pretty, but every one seemed to go through the uprights.”
Meanwhile, Zendejas’ unpredictability was his undoing.
He has made 31 of 41 field goals in the past two seasons — 75.6 percent. That’s better than the career percentage (63.8) of former Arizona kicker Nick Folk. But Folk’s attempts had a more pleasing height and distance, and he didn’t suddenly drill his blockers in the back with a low kick.
With Zendejas, you just don’t know what you’re going to get.
Give him credit for this, though: Salazar said Zendejas has been helping him with his kicking and has even lent his uncle, UA legend Max Zendejas, for some advice.
“He’s still going to compete,” Salazar said of Alex. “He’s a really committed kicker. He’s not going to stop.”
Maybe Salazar will be consistent and clutch. Maybe not. Maybe there will come a time this season when the Cats need Zendejas to make an important kick.
“Alex is such an amazing hard-worker, and it means so much to him. It hurts. I know it does,” Hammerschmidt said of the demotion. “But he’ll fight through it, and it’s a long season. Crazy things happen. Who knows where we’ll be at the end of the season.”
In other special teams news, true freshman punter Drew Riggleman, from Sahuaro High School, walked-on to the team this week as classes began.