San Diego State Aztecs punter Matt Araiza won the 2021 Ray Guy Award, handed out to the nation’s top punter.
The award was announced at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show on Thursday on ESPN. Araiza became the first Aztec ever to win a national award, selected over finalists Adam Korsak (Rutgers) and Jordan Stout (Penn State).
“Hopefully, I brought some honor to the past Aztec Warriors and hopefully opened the door to the future generations,” Araiza said when he met with the media following the announcement.
In an exclusive interview, Kerry Araiza, Matt’s mother, told EVT that their family is “thrilled and beyond proud” of Matt for winning the award. “Seeing your child succeed in their personal goals is all a parent could ask for. There are many exceptional punters in the nation, and [just] his nomination was a tremendous honor.”
Araiza’s punting took the nation by storm earlier in the season after two booming 80+ yard punts plus several other 70+ yarders caught the attention of national football personalities such as former NFL punter and current podcast host Pat McAfee. He quickly earned many nicknames on social media, including “PUNT GOD.” While acknowledging the family has gotten a kick out of the nicknames, Kerry Araiza added they “are grateful that specialists across the nation are getting the much-deserved attention.”
— Kerry Araiza (@r_y_z_2) October 16, 2021
The Rancho Bernardo High alum broke an FBS record with 39 punts of 50+ yards and 18 punts of 60+ yards in a single season. The previous records were 32 and 14, respectively. With one game remaining (Frisco Bowl), Araiza is on pace to break the single-season yard per punt average of 50.98 set by Texas A&M’s Braden Mann in 2018. Araiza is currently averaging 51.37 yards per punt through 13 games, with a net punt average of 44.3.
Araiza also earned First Team All-American honors from The Athletic, CBS Sports, ESPN, and Walter Camp this week after winning Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year last week. His quick rise to fame was completely unexpected. Araiza did not receive any preseason honors because he was known more for his field goal kicking than punting entering 2021.
Araiza admitted his first goal this season as a punter was “keeping my job,” alluding to last season, where he was not ready to handle all three kicking roles and lost his punter duties early in the season. Asked how he was able to make such a huge turnaround from last season, he pointed to his dedication this past offseason with “great focus and deeper thought process.”
As one of only four players in the country handling all three kicking duties (punts, field goals, and kickoffs), Araiza’s ascension in the FBS punting record books is extremely impressive. Kerry Araiza attributes Araiza’s success to a “culmination of [his] hard work, skill, and desire…and also many people that have worked with him in the past and currently.” She specifically praised the top-notch San Diego State coaches in their focus to “work collectively to put forth the best football program they can.”
During his interview on ESPN, as he was announced as the winner, Araiza credited the people around him, especially “great teammates that make [my job] easy.” During his press conference, he further expounded by stating this was “not an award one man can win” and spoke glowingly about his special team’s coach, Doug Deakin, and the great four years he has spent learning from a great mentor who cares about all his players.
Araiza’s inner drive and dedication for success can be best exhibited by a story his mother relayed. As COVID-19 forced Araiza to move back home and unable to go to a gym or find weight lifting equipment that was not back-ordered for months, he was determined to find a way to stay in shape. One day, Araiza and his father purchased a load of concrete and lumber and made their own weights and boxing spar bar. “It was creative and showed his persistence in finding ways to improve himself as an athlete, even when faced with adversity,” said Kerry Araiza.
Araiza, only a junior, technically has two years of eligibility remaining if he chooses to continue college football. But after the season he is about to complete, NFL scouts will definitely come calling. Araiza deflected questions about entering the NFL Draft this season but reiterated that being a professional athlete has “been a dream for a very long time.”
Beware, Aztec fans; the Frisco Bowl may be your last chance to see the “PUNT GOD” boom punts or make jarring special team tackles (he has six on the season) for the Scarlet and Black. He will be doing the same on Sundays for one lucky NFL team, whether this year or next.