Matt Araiza can always tell when he gets a hold of a punt. The opposing returner will either abruptly backpedal with their eyes focused straight up or the returner simply watches the ball sail over their head.
"It's great," Araiza said. "Because you know the result is going to be good."
Such was the case for Araiza's first NFL punt, a booming 82-yarder in the Bills' first preseason game against the Colts. With the line of scrimmage at the Bills' own 18-yard line, Araiza got the snap and punted from the 8-yard line. Six seconds later, the ball was in the Colts' end zone.
"I was fired up," Araiza said with a big grin on his face following the game.
Field-position-changing plays like that will now be a more permanent sight in Buffalo as Araiza was officially named the team's starting punter on Monday, beating out Matt Haack for the job. Araiza will also be the primary holder on field goal and PAT attempts for Tyler Bass. The news was obviously exciting to the rookie punter but he also said it means he has to continue to prove why he was the right choice.
"I wouldn't call it a relief, because you have to go out and earn your job every week. It's a step in the right direction, and I'm grateful for it, for sure," Araiza said.
Araiza competed for the job throughout training camp and into the first two weeks of preseason with Haack, who was Buffalo's starting punter last season. The rookie shared that Haack was a great teammate throughout the whole process and helped him learn some of the intricacies of both punting and holding techniques.
"He was awesome, just how nice he was to me and how I could use him as a resource throughout the whole thing. It was great to have him act the way he did when it was just the two of us and I'll always be grateful for the time that he was here," Araiza said.
Ultimately, it was Araiza who earned the spot more so than Haack losing it.
"What we've seen to this point with Matt Araiza, he's off to a good start," Bills head coach Sean McDermott shared. "He's got to continue to work and I think that's the right mindset here."
Prior to viral clips of his punts running rampant on social media during the college football season, Araiza was far from a household name in the special teams world. Growing up in San Diego, Araiza was a multi-sport athlete — in his senior year of high school, he played football in the fall, soccer in the winter and track & field in the spring. It was actually on his travel soccer team where he realized his kicking power was different from other kids.
"I could always hit the ball better than most of the kids my age," Araiza said. "I think soccer was when I knew I had the leg strength and so it was just about translating that to football."
At Rancho Bernardo High School, Araiza was also the team's field goal kicker and became a revelation. He made 37 field goals, earning the San Diego Section Kicker of the Year award twice and was a two-time All-American. Despite that, no Power 5 offers rolled Araiza's way his senior year, only walk-on opportunities.
"It was a little different for me because I didn't like the kicking camps that a lot of guys go to and get their offers from," Araiza said. "Part of it was because I was playing other sports so I wasn't going to miss high school soccer to go to a kicking camp; to me that wasn't fun, wasn't worth the trade.
"So I think missing that kind of hurt the offers, but I'm very happy with where I am and I wouldn't really change anything."
San Diego State, Montana and UMass were Araiza's only offers and he opted to stay close to home for college. At SDSU, the legend of the 'Punt God' was born. In a two week span in 2021, Araiza's junior year, he had two punts that traveled over 80 yards. The clips were picked up by national social media accounts across the country, including former NFL punter Pat McAfee.
"When the bigger accounts I followed started mentioning my name, that was pretty crazy," Araiza said.
Araiza's punting distance was so baffling that teams started sending not one, but two returners to field his punts. On Nov. 7, 2021, the Aztecs played at Hawaii and Hawaii put one player at the 30-yard line and another on the 10-yard line. Araiza booted the punt from his own 12-yard line and it went over both of their heads.
But the Bills' new punter isn't all distance and no precision, he says he's comfortable punting from all areas of the field.
"There's not a situation that's going to catch me by surprise," he said.
If there's one change Araiza may have to adjust to this season — besides holding — it's that his usage rate may be lower with the prolific Bills offense on the field in front of him. Quarterback Josh Allen praised Araiza's ability Monday but smirked that if all goes well for the offense, most of Araiza's action will be seen as the holder on field goal and PAT attempts.
"I saw something on Twitter, though, try to keep him off the field and he's gonna be the 'Hold God.' Not the Punt god, the Hold God," he laughed.
Araiza wouldn't mind, he said, because team success comes first.
"That's priority No. 1," he said. "It doesn't really matter how much you punt, it's just that you do well when it's your job."
Though if early indications are a sign of things to come, Araiza will do his job just fine.
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