RB's Matt Araiza punts during pregame warm-up.
Football coaches tell you the game is played in three phases — offense, defense and special teams.
The problem is that special teams aren’t considered special when it comes to recruiting.
Just ask Rancho Bernardo High’s Matt Araiza, a two-time San Diego Section Kicker of the Year and a two-time All-American.
“Colleges offer kickers late,” said Araiza, who will play his last home game tonight in the Division I playoffs against Valhalla.
“They want you to walk on and offer a scholarship when one opens. I was really bothered by that at first. As a sophomore, I thought I’d write my own ticket. I figured I could choose my dream school and they’d offer a scholarship.”
Despite a record-setting sophomore season in which he connected on 18 of 21 field goal tries, 66 of 69 PATs, had touchbacks on 66 of 97 kickoffs and averaged 40.1 on 49 punts on a team that won a state championship, colleges didn’t come calling.
“I understand the process now,” Araiza said. “I can’t say I like it, but I understand it.”
Rancho Bernardo coach Tristan McCoy said the 6-foot-2, 182-pound Araiza isn’t just a kicker, “he’s an athlete.”
But McCoy was reluctant to use a great special-teams weapon, a player who could change field position with his leg, on offense or defense.
That changed this season as Araiza earned a starting spot on defense as a cornerback, where he has contributed 13 tackles and an interception.
“Our offense has been a little funky this season, so Matt hasn’t had the kicking opportunities he has had the last couple of years,” McCoy said. “But he’s a football player, a big-game guy.
“There has been a lot of interest, but very few offers. Someone is going to swoop in and steal a great player.”
Araiza, who hit a 53-yard field goal earlier this season and said he has range up to 60 yards, said his only offer is from USD, a non-scholarship program.
San Diego State was on the RB campus earlier this week, but there was no scholarship offer.
The RB coaches have reached out to colleges across the country.
Araiza grew up as a soccer player, realizing at a young age he had some power in his left foot.
“As a freshman, I realized that power could translate to football,” Araiza said. “I was blessed that my club soccer team won a national championship the summer before my sophomore year, and I was voted Top 11, the All-American of club soccer.
“After that, I quit club soccer to concentrate on football. It just got too hard — playing a football game Friday, then playing club soccer after football practice on Saturday. I had to choose a sport.”
Football was that sport.
That will change soon as Araiza plans to play soccer for Rancho Bernardo in this winter.
“I love football, I love playing defense this season,” Araiza said. “We have great camaraderie on the defensive side. But it’s my senior year, and I want to play soccer again. I know it’s late in the recruiting process for soccer, but it might be an option in college.”
In a perfect world, Araiza said he’d like to punt and kick off in college. Field goals and PATs would be a bonus.
He has 40 touchbacks on 42 kickoffs this season and has a synergy with the crowd at RB home games when he tries to put kickoffs through the opposing team’s uprights — a 70-yard boot.
“I never expected to fall in love with punting, but it’s now my favorite part of kicking,” Araiza said. “But I’m considered funky. I’m a left-footed kicker, but right handed. Experts say the opposite-hand drop is too hard. It hasn’t been fun, but I’ve worked on my drop over and over. I walk around with a football working on the perfect drop.
“I realize there is opportunity here, but it’s only possible because of the work of my snappers and holders.”
Cree Morris, who played quarterback at Orange Glen, then at San Diego State and Saint Mary’s and went to camp with the NFL’s Raiders and Rams, runs 5 Tool QB.
His son Noah is a sophomore starting quarterback at RB and Cree works with Araiza on his punting.
“Matt was a sophomore on the varsity, so he knows what it’s like to be the young guy among the veterans,” Cree said. “Matt took my son under his wing. I’m so thankful for that.
“Matt is a great kicker, maybe the best in the country. And he may be the best athlete on our team.
“Beyond that he’s a better person than athlete. And that means a lot.”
MATT ARAIZA FILE
Sophomore: 97 kickoffs, 66 touchbacks
Junior: 73, 64
Senior: 42, 40
Sophomore: 66 made, 69 tries
Junior: 52, 56
Senior: 22, 22
Sophomore: 18 made, 21 tries
Junior: 7, 11
Senior: 8, 12
18 field goals is a San Diego Section season record
33 career field goals is one shy of the section record of 34 held by Rancho Bernardo’s Nate Tandberg from 1993-95
Araiza’s long field goal is 53 yards
120 points is a section season record
239 career points is short of the record of 261 held by St. Augustine’s Jordan Congdon from 2002-04
Sophomore: 40.1 average, 58 longest
Junior: 41.4, 59
Senior: 43.5, 71