The Zendejas Boys Find Life Is a Relative Kick
09/17/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT
It's becoming an axiom in football: The family that kicks together, sticks together—and may be pro draft picks together. Brothers Charlie and Pete Gogolak established the field-goal fraternity in the late 1960s by booting for the Washington Redskins and New York Giants, respectively. In the '70s Nick Mike-Mayer and brother Steve kicked conversions for a series of NFL teams. In the late '70s Chris Bahr split uprights for the Cincinnati Bengals at the same time brother Matt was doing it for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Now, true to the expansionist tradition, here come the Zendejas brothers and their kickin' cousins, the other Zendejas brothers. There are seven in all: Alex, Alan, Martin, Max, Luis, Tony and Joaquin Jr. They're the sons of brothers: Genaro, a restaurateur who emigrated from Mexico to Chino, Calif. in 1964 with wife Nefa and the first of their 10 children; and Joaquin Sr., a construction worker who in 1970 moved half a block away with wife Raquel and seven kids. All told, seven sons of these two brothers are stick-out kickers in the pros, three colleges and two high schools.
Tony, 24, Genaro's eldest son, is the family star. This summer he finished his first season with the USFL's L.A. Express with 12 straight field goals and a perfect point-after record: 36 of 36. In the play-offs last June he booted two field goals in the longest game in pro-football history, L.A.'s 27-21 triple overtime win over the Michigan Panthers. Now the Redskins are eyeing Tony as a future replacement for Mark Moseley, 36, the 1982 NFL MVP. And it all started because his high school soccer team practiced next to the football squad. "I went over and kicked a couple," Tony recalls, "and then realized this was something I could excel at."
His cousin Joaquin Jr., 24, didn't kick a football till he went to tiny La Verne University in California in '79. But he's doing okay too. He played for the New England Patriots last season and has just become a free agent.
The Zendejases still in school are hot on the two leaders' heels. Joaquin's brother Luis, 23, holds the NCAA Division I record for most career field goals (65) and most points kicking (295) and he's still got a year to go at Arizona State. The kicker for Pac-10 arch rival University of Arizona is brother Max, 21. With 99 points, Max was Arizona's leading scorer last year and, to boot, kicked a 45-yarder with no time on the clock to beat Arizona State 17-15. Tony's brother Martin, 19, is a sophomore at the University of Nevada at Reno and beginning his first season as the kicker. Alan, 16, and Alex, 15, also Joaquin Sr.'s kids, both kick for Don Antonio Lugo High in Chino. Alan has hit from 55 yards, Alex from 48.
Tony thinks he knows what makes the family so good. "Practicing by yourself is lonely," he says. "It's easy to make excuses not to do it. But having all of them around makes everyone try a lot harder." Like all the Zendejases, who universally describe themselves as "levelheaded," Tony is putting it mildly: Eight hours aiming at a local high school's goalposts is a daily Zendejas workout. All were helped by Joaquin Sr., who played semipro soccer in Mexico. This suggests something else the Z's have in common with the other sets of placekicking brothers—all kick soccer-style and all had soccer-playing fathers.
"Dad taught us discipline," Luis says, again displaying the Zendejas penchant for understatement. Even family picnics turn into soccer and touch-football competitions, a kind of Mexican-American Hyannisport, and Luis' father and brothers ran a successful two-day kicking camp in Tempe, Ariz, this summer. However, it seems likely that one has to be born a Zendejas to really kick like one. Strong legs, Luis says, "run in the family."
Under the circumstances, jealousy could easily run in the family too, but the emotion seems unthinkable. "Every Zendejas roots for one another," says Tony, "although we like to see who can do the best. It keeps us sharp." Adds brother Martin, "Tony's my hero, I model myself after him." Does he also plan to pursue pro football? Martin looks deeply shocked at the question. "Of course," he says.