Joaquin Zendejas' dream was to get at least one professional soccer player from among his many sons and nephews. Now he may have to settle for a professional football player. Or two. Or six. Because the Zendejases of Chino, Calif. have become America's first family of placekicking. Through last Saturday's games they have kicked 143 extra points and 76 field goals this season—371 points for one family. Teams ranging from Notre Dame to Pomona High have fallen at their feet. Last Saturday they even got their kicks against each other when Max Z of Arizona booted a field goal and three extra points, and his brother Luis Z of Arizona State kicked a field goal and one extra point as the Wildcats upset the Sun Devils 28-18, eliminating them from a Rose Bowl berth.
Presenting, from oldest to youngest, The Kicking Zendejases:
•Joaquin Jr., 22, son of Joaquin and Raquel, kicked a 55-yard field goal in his first-ever attempt for the University of La Verne, a Division III school 30 miles east of Los Angeles. Until this, his senior year, when he suffered a variety of injuries, Joaquin made good on 22 of 35 attempts. He finished 29 for 52 overall.
•Tony, 22, son of Genaro, Joaquin's brother, and Ninfa Zendejas, a senior with junior eligibility at Division I-AA Nevada-Reno, has an amazing career field-goal average of .825 (47 of 57). By comparison, the best career average in Division I-A history is .819 (59 of 72) by Chuck Nelson, the Washington senior. Tony holds 15 Division I-AA records and six more are within his reach. He has had at least one field goal in each of the 22 games he has played and is surely one of the few kickers in the country with more field goals than extra points. He kicked five field goals in the final 15½ minutes in a 24-12 victory over Northern Arizona on Oct. 9.
•Luis, 21, Joaquin's brother, an Arizona State sophomore, was successful on the first nine field goals he tried last season as a freshman and went on to virtually rewrite the ASU record book in placekicking. He has missed only twice in 25 attempts from inside 40 yards and has made three of five from 50 or farther, including a 55-yarder.
•Max, 19, a freshman at Arizona, stilled the thunder at South Bend on Oct. 16 when his 48-yard field goal with no time showing beat the Irish 16-13.
•Martin, an 18-year-old senior at Don Antonio Lugo High School in Chino, already shows the promise of his brother Tony. He kicked a 49-yard field goal and had six other three-pointers in nine attempts this year.
•Alan, a 15-year-old freshman, isn't close to beating out his cousin for the varsity placekicking job at Lugo, but he did boot two field goals and six extra points for the freshman team.
Except for the Zendejases, the four Seibel brothers from Vermillion, S.D., representing Nebraska, South Dakota, Augustana and Vermillion High, would have a toehold on first-family honors. They are all conventional kickers, while the Zendejases, as befits their background, are soccer-style kickers. The Zendejases started as soccer players and then gravitated to placekicking. Martin and Alan, in fact, are still playing soccer at Don Lugo. And Joaquin Sr. coaches Chino United, a weekend team. For the other Zendejases, soccer is a thing of the past.
"I miss it when I see somebody playing, and I'll still take my shoes with me to the park near our house and play a little pickup," says Tony. "But now, if my uncle would see me, he'd kill me." The promise of a pro football career has changed the mind of more than one soccer idealist.
Joaquin Sr., a disabled construction worker and former first-division amateur in Mexico, knew almost nothing of pro football when he and his wife moved the family to Chino from Mexico City in 1959. Genaro, a restaurateur, had preceded him, and it was his son Tony who was actually the first Zendejas kid to boot the prolate spheroid. Tony started his football career as a junior high school defensive back but soon took on the place-kicking duties as well. Luis and Max followed in Tony's footsteps and started kicking when they were at Don Lugo. Joaquin was more interested in soccer in high school and didn't get serious until the summer before he entered college.
All the Zs say the transition from soccer to football was simple.
Tony: "I just watched somebody kicking one day and said to the holder, 'Could you hold one for me?' And—boom!—I kicked it and it was good. The ball is lighter, and you're concentrating on one certain spot, unlike with a soccer ball, which is moving when it comes toward you."
Max: "The only difficulty I saw in adjusting was that when you want to get a soccer ball to go higher you lean back, and when you want to get a football higher you lean forward."
Tony and Joaquin were the best soccer players among the Zs, and Joaquin, in particular, is a natural. After he hurt his right leg before a preseason scrimmage against the College of the Pacific, he kicked off with his left. "You use both in soccer," he explains. Luis, befitting his veteran status, is more the technician. He instructed Joaquin on some of the finer points last summer when they worked out together at Arizona State.
Not all the points, though. "Actually, Joaquin showed me how to hit the ball, how to get into it," says Luis. "That has a lot more to do with power and soccer. I worked with him on his steps and where to hit the ball." And Luis has always been a kicking guru to Max. "Max always used to think about how far the field goal was when he went out there to kick it," says Luis. "I told him he should wipe that out of his mind. Just look at the goalpost. They're not gonna move it."
Luis' instruction must have paid off when Max went out to attempt the game-winner against Notre Dame. "I remember a lot of screaming and yelling and noise before I kicked," says Max. "Then I remember going over the things I wanted to concentrate on, saying them over and over. Suddenly, right before the snap, everything went blank around me. I didn't hear any noise or anything to disturb me."
Next summer the Zs plan to concentrate en masse—in workouts at Chino High—which goes to show that a family that kicks together, sticks together.