ORCHARD PARK, NY (AP) — Not even the “God of Punt” can change Mother Earth.
Arriving in Buffalo for the Bills rookie minicamp, Matt Araiza was unhappy with the weather. After all, San Diego natives have a lot of experience when it comes to temperatures of 85 degrees and sunny.
“It’s funny because everyone tells me how cold it is in here, how windy it is in here,” Araiza said Friday with a laugh. “And then I got here, it was beautiful.”
Araiza noted that the near-perfect conditions followed a desire to get used to the winter chill and swirling winds that made the Bills home one of the more challenging NFL venues for punters.
He didn’t really have to endure the cold during his three years at San Diego State, where award-winning Ray Guy established himself as one of college football’s premier players. The fourth down turned into a moment to watch out for due to Araiza’s ability to flip the pitch in setting a college football record with a punting average of 51.19 yards.
The 21-year-old Araiza became the third player selected in last month’s draft, when Buffalo picked him in the sixth round to the delight of a fan base already fascinated by his abilities and nicknames.
To be clear, he’s not a big fan of “Punt God,” saying: “I understand that’s a big compliment, but I think it’s going too far.”
While he’s no less confident, Araiza realizes he’s nowhere near a finished product after leaving school after his junior season, with just a year tackling the Aztecs full-time punting stint.
Apart from getting used to playing in bad weather, there are a few questions he must answer to win the Bills job over returning veterans Matt Hack.
Having also doubled as an Aztec placekicker, Araiza is not used to holding, which has become a major chore for NFL players. Another issue is increasing its hang time from an average of four seconds in college to five, which is considered the benchmark at the pro level.
“That’s probably one of the things that excites me the most is that I know I have a lot of things to get better at,” said Araiza, who spent the offseason improving his skills under the tutelage of Patriots players. Jake Baileyas well as a former Chargers kicker Nick Novak and Seattle’s Jason Myers. “I think that’s my biggest advantage as a player coming into this draft is that I don’t believe that I’ve really scratched the surface of what I can do.”
Araiza’s self-awareness feeds into the slow but steady message Bills coach Sean McDermott sends his rookies to prepare for their first day of training.
McDermott in particular went to great lengths to play down the buzz Araiza was generating.
“He hasn’t even been punted at all, so let’s hope he gets out and ties his shoes properly, which I’m sure he will,” she said.
However, McDermott couldn’t help but crack a joke in acknowledging how Araiza’s reputation—and the left-foot boom—predated it.
“That’ll be the next trick,” McDermott said with a laugh. “We’re gonna get a hot air balloon out there so that guy can catch it.”
The sky could be the limit for Araiza.
One of his more famous plays last season was dubbed “The Moon Shot,” depicting an 81-yard kick in the Air Force. It came on the heels of an 86-yarder at San Jose State a week earlier.
Araiza’s potential alone was enough to convince the two-time reigning AFC East champions to sign him after Haack’s inconsistency saw Buffalo finish 31st in the NFL with an average 37.6 yard punting. Haack, however, excels as a capable holder for the kicker Tyler Bass.
The bill’s emphasis on punting is considered secondary considering that a Josh Allen-leads offense that ranks third in the NFL with 1,143 shots. Buffalo attempted just 52 punts, including two games in which Haack tried none, to finish 28th.
All of that is no different with Araiza.
“If being part of a great team means you take less kicks, that’s okay. When it’s my job, I have to do it well,” he said.
Araiza’s commitment to improving his skills at Buffalo came at the expense of attending San Diego State’s graduation ceremony on Sunday.
“I want to be here. I want to train,” said Araiza, who majored in computer science, economics and statistics. “I want to be in this facility and work to get a job. That’s much more important to me.”
Winter in Buffalo can’t be here soon.
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