TEMPE, Ariz. — Some of the Arizona Cardinals’ special teams players were busy at their training facility in Tempe on Saturday morning, hosting a kicking camp for young boys and girls. The Cardinals joined forces with AZ Kicking & Training which is run by former Ironwood High School and University of Arizona kicker turned coach, Alex Zendejas Jr., and his father for the event.
Sixteen-year-old Emily Vaiasicca, a rising junior at Paradise Valley High School, is coached by the Zendejases. She said having the opportunity to learn from NFL players was something she couldn’t miss out on.
“When I saw the post go out that my coaches were teaming up with the Cardinals I was like ‘Oh my god, this is super cool,'" Vaiasicca said. "So, I went to my mom right away and was like ‘You need to sign me up for this.' I was just really excited to get more kicking opportunities because I really want to improve and get more practice.”
The participants ranged in age from 10 years old to new high school graduates. Some of the teenage kickers, long snappers and punters were from schools as far as Hawaii and Indiana. If Vaiasicca’s name sounds familiar, it’s because last season she knocked in a game-winning extra point in overtime that gave her Trojans their seventh straight win. She ended up winning our Friday Night Fever Hot Shot Play of the Week and earning a Cardinals High School Player of the Week Award.
“Me a year ago would not expect to come out and be kicking with Matt Prater,” Vaiasicca said. “Getting lessons from him is just really cool. Seeing how he kicks… I’m learning a lot today.”
A 17-year NFL veteran, Prater set a Cardinals franchise record with a 62-yard field goal in a win over the Minnesota Vikings in 2021. A few weeks ago, he was celebrating his daughter, Ava, winning a Girls Flag Football State Championship with Casteel High School.
“I was so excited. That’s a first for me, winning a state championship. I was more excited, I think, than the girls were,” Prater said. “It was so much fun. It was awesome.”
While Ava is a multi-sport athlete who also cheers for the Colts, many of the kickers learning from her dad on Saturday are also soccer players for their respective schools.
“It’s super common. I was just at the Zendejas’s house the other day teaching a bunch of girl kickers for the flag leagues how to kick and they all have soccer backgrounds,” Prater said. “If someone can kick a ball, we can just teach them how to kick it straight and clean with rotation and all that good stuff.”
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