While the prospect of a new season is enough to excite any athlete, the beginning of the 2019 Arizona Wildcats campaign is more exhilarating than usual for fifth-year senior Matt Aragon.
That’s because it’s finally his time to be Arizona’s No. 1 punter, as he is set to make his first career start Saturday at Hawaii.
“I’ve waited such a long time to be where I’m at,” he said recently. “It’s been a lot of highs and lows. I’m just really excited that I’ll actually be able to contribute this year.”
Aragon has only punted three times for 116 yards throughout his UA career, but special teams coordinator Jeremy Springer said his improvement in the last year has been “0 to 100.”
“He has so much upside and I think he finally realized that,” Springer said early in fall camp.
To make this opportunity even more exciting, Aragon was born and raised in Tucson, meaning he will have the chance to start in a stadium he’s been going to his entire life.
“It’s very special to me,” he said. “I remember we had season tickets growing up and I would go to the games with my mom and my family. It’s funny the other day I actually stumbled across some pictures of me probably three or four months old in UA clothes at the game. I definitely bleed red and blue.”
While it sounds almost dreamlike, the road to finally get to this point hasn’t been an easy one for Aragon. After joining the team as a preferred walk-on in 2015, he redshirted and switched positions a couple of times to try to get some playing time, only to end up back at punter.
“Freshman year, I knew Drew Riggleman was going to be the guy. He was a senior and that’s who they expected to handle the punting duties in 2015,” Aragon said. “In 2016, I was in a battle with Jake Glatting and Josh Pollack. I ended up punting one game and I did get impatient. It got to a point where I said, ‘I have to be able to contribute to the team somehow.’ That’s when I talked to Coach Rodriguez and I was moved to receiver. I was doing both punting and receiving. That was tougher for me, because I was trying to perfect two positions instead of focusing on one.”
Aragon says that the trials and tribulations he’s endured throughout his career have allowed him to become more of a leader in the locker room during his last go-around.
“I feel like a lot of the young guys have been looking up to me,” he said. “They call me gramps so I’m kind of like the old head now. It’s kind of a duty that comes along with being here, just helping the young guys kind of get acclimated as they go.”
He’ll be looking to help the Wildcats on the field this year too, and he says the vibe around the team this year is different than in years prior.
“Overall, I think the guys have really bought in,” he said. “I think me being here going on five years I’ve seen a lot of people come and go both staff and players and you can just feel that difference in the air this year.”