Following in the footsteps of ‘punt god’

The Press-Enterprise

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The Press-Enterprise

How does one follow a god? Riverside City College (RCC) kicker Ricardo Chavez might soon find out. Last week, Chavez received an offer from San Diego State. Along with the Aztecs, Chavez is considering Indiana State and Campbell University. He has visits set up with the Sycamores and Fighting Camels. He plans to make his decision after he returns from those trips, which will be around January 10th. EVT caught up with Chavez, who gave us insight into his game, his recruitment, and what he thinks about the Aztecs.

“Araiza is a great specialist,” Chavez said when asked about the fame Matt Araiza garnered last season. “He did all three at a very, very high level. “He was outstanding. For the whole world to call him the ‘punt god’ that’s something special.”

Araiza is going to be a tough act to follow. No matter what any of the specialists do, fans and the media will compare them to the legendary kicker. The best way to follow a trendsetter is to possess something unique in one’s own game. Chavez brings a style all his own to the position. Like Araiza, he excels at all three kicking duties, but he does them in a special way. He kicks with his right foot, but punts with his left.

“No one to the caliber Richard can do both at,” Joey Cejudo, owner of Next Level Kicking, said when asked if he has ever seen a player use both feet as Chavez does.

“It just came naturally to me,” Chavez added. “I grew up playing soccer my whole life, so that could play a part.”

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Whatever foot he is using, the results have been the same. He crushes footballs. On kickoffs, he regularly launches missiles deep into the end zone. This past season, Chavez averaged 36.5 yards a punt on 34 attempts, which would rank about 40th nationally among all junior college kickers. His longest kick went 60 yards and laid up perfectly at the one-yard line. Only one of his kicks went for a touchback. As a field goal kicker, he was 21-24 on the year with the most 50+ field goals made in the CCCAA.  

“Yes, I definitely think I can do all three phases,” Chavez said. “I did in my JC, and I know I can translate to D1 football. That’s the main reason why I was recruited because I can do all three.”

One of the advantages of bringing in a junior college player like Chavez is he has already competed in pressure situations. As a freshman in 2019, he made a 42-yard field goal and was nine for nine on extra points in RCC’s 68-21 dismantling of College of Canyons to win the CCAA championship.

Following the cancellation of the 2020 season, Chavez and RCC were back in the junior college title game. Riverside lost 22-19. Early in the second quarter, Chavez pushed a 47 yarder wide left. While those three points ended up being the difference in the game, Chavez responded by hitting two subsequent field goals.  The first of which was a 59 yarder as time expired in the first half. It broke his own JC state record and gave RCC a 10-7 halftime lead. This high-level, high-stakes experience will serve him well at the next level. He already knows what it takes to be a champion.  Chavez has also shown he can bounce back after a miss.

“I have been working with Richard for two-plus years now,” Cejudo said “He is always looking for ways to improve his skills. From the field to the weight room, he wants to improve every time!”

As the offer indicates, SDSU believes Chavez is a match for the program. He has a reputation as a great teammate. He is clearly passionate about his craft. His personal integrity shined through after a car accident nearly ended his career.

Late one night in September 2020, Chavez was involved in a major car accident fracturing his ribs and puncturing a lung. It also caused severe back pain. He worked his way back in time to participate and win a kicking competition at the prestigious Kohl’s Kicking Camp in December of that year.

“One message I can give to others is never to give up,” Chavez explained. “No matter how hard it seems at that very moment, someone else has it harder.”

His experience will undoubtedly serve him well in his future career once he is finished playing football.

“I plan on studying kinesiology,” Chavez said. “I want to be a physical therapist. This plays a big role, at the end of the day, this matters the most.”

Assuming the academics are equal, what advantages does SDSU have compared to Chavez’s other finalists?

First, Chavez plays with a bravado that stands out even in a game like football, where confidence abounds. “(He has) a swagger that all kickers should have,” Cejudo said. “A confidence level that is not seen often in a kicker.” While many players would shrink from following Araiza on the Mesa, Chavez embraces that challenge.

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Second, Chavez is from California. He was quoted in October saying his preference was to continue his career in the Golden State. While he has grown more open to playing elsewhere over the past few months. He admitted, “It’s still on the top of my list.”

Third, Chavez has been surrounded by people with ties to SDSU. His head coach at RCC is former SDSU player, offensive coordinator, and head coach Tom Craft. Craft never steers players to a particular school. Still, Craft’s love for SDSU is evident to Chavez.

He also has been coached by Donny Hageman at Next Level Kicking. Hageman played for the Aztecs in 2014-2015, leveraging that experience into a professional career, most notably with the San Diego Fleet. “Hageman has told me nothing but great things about the program,” Chavez said.

Fourth, Chavez’s main recruiter with the Aztecs is Special Teams Coach Doug Deakin. Among the fast risers in the industry, Deakin is a personable coach whose playing experience gives him a perspective few coaches have. “Deakin has always done great at recruiting specialists,” according to Cejudo.

“The person who recruited me was Coach Deakin,” Chavez explained. “He’s a great guy & I’m just thankful he has blessed me with this opportunity.”

Finally, the Aztecs play college football at the highest level. There is a strong possibility SDSU ends the 2021 season ranked in the top 25. Next year, they open a new stadium, which puts the program on its strongest footing ever. Both Campbell and Indiana State play at the FCS level.

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With all of these advantages, there is one serious deficit the Aztecs have in their pursuit of the talented kicker. SDSU offered Chavez a preferred walk-on (PWO) role while the Sycamores and the Fighting Camels extended him a scholarship.

“At this point in time, I’m an adult. I don’t mind playing out of state,” Chavez said. “I treat myself as a professional. If the Panthers call me right now, I’m going. Of course, it’s a dream for someone to play for a hometown school, but if someone else is offering to pay for my tuition and housing, that would be the better cost. … It’s just something my family and I need to come together (to decide). ”

SDSU has had success, in recent history, with specialists turning down full-rides to play in San Diego. Long snapper Ryan Wintermeyer rejected an offer from Air Force and started every game last year. His decleating on his first collegiate snap was one of the great sound bites of the early season.  

With Chavez, SDSU is, ironically, in the same position they were in with Araiza when he was making his college decision. Araiza was originally offered a PWO, but a last-minute scholarship from FCS Montana tempted him away. While the Aztecs ended up offering Araiza an eleventh-hour scholarship, it is not hard to imagine how history would have been different if the Rancho Bernardo star’s exploits had occurred tucked away in Missoula.

Over the next two weeks, Chavez and his family will make the decision that is best for them. They are, after all, the people who know best. The choice ultimately boils down to Chavez cashing out on all the work he has put in and choosing the thousands of dollars he has earned or doubling down on his exploits, stepping into the spotlight and following in the footsteps of “punt god.”

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