By Michael Carrizosa (@Mac_Carrrizosa):
I was brought up with football at a very young age.
While my parents had been together at San Francisco State University, my dad played football for the Gators and my mom was pregnant with me while juggling school and work. My great grandfather was a punter for the football team and played rugby at UC Berkeley, so it kinda runs in the family.
I grew up in Salinas, Calif. where I attended Palma High School. I played a lot of different sports growing up including golf, wrestling, soccer, track and field and basketball. At Palma, I lettered in football and soccer.
My journey as a punter has been a roller coaster of events, to say the least.
In pop warner, I played all sorts of positions, and that’s when I started kicking field goals. I could kick the ball because of soccer, but I never knew it would bring me so far.
THE FIRST ADVERSITY
When I got to high school, I mainly played defensive line and kicker/punter. During my time on varsity, we won a Central Coast Section title in football.
I wasn’t a starter till my senior year and then, in the fourth game of the season, I blew my knee out against Monterey High School.
At half time, they didn’t know exactly what was wrong. I just had them wrap it up and I went back in the game, but this time, only to punt as I couldn’t run at all.
I just remember that I only had four games of film to my resume and I needed it for recruiting purposes. I ended up in a soft cast and crutches for month but I still played in every game that year.
The doctors told me the risk for injury was there, but I could still wrap up my knee and play. It was my decision at the end of the day and by the end of the season, I was near 90 percent healthy.
I was never an all-league punter and had never been to an all-star game. It was a dogfight of an injury especially with the rehab, but somehow, I was able to get the job done.
THE GRIND FOR AN OPPORTUNITY
I was grateful enough to work with one of the best punting coaches/ human beings I have ever met, Doug Saucedo, who was my math teacher at Palma and was a phenomenal punter at the collegiate level and beyond. Doug took me under his wing when I arrived at Palma, noticing a talent I had never sought out.
He coached John Bonanno (Palma High School, class of 2008) into a great player who kicked for the University of Arizona.
I have been blessed with Doug who is considered family to me now because he not only pushed me to be the best I can be, but he believed in me and has never given up on me. He has been loyal to me to this day and still comes to all my home games. He would coach me up every single day after school, watch and break down film with me and help a lot with my recruiting process.
All throughout the remainder of my senior year, surpassing signing day, I was not recruited very much and in fact, I started weighing out my options on whether football was not in my future.
It was a tough grind, but I continued to work my tail off.
I started attending kicking and punting camps to help myself get ranked and to compete against kickers and punters from all over the nation who were committed to big schools.
I was able to do well for myself and began to understand the system.
Once I had put out a little game and camp film, I began to get some calls. In the summer of 2013 shortly after my senior graduation, I was offered a walk-on opportunity at Sacramento State. My head coach set up a meeting for my mom and I to come up for a visit, and I committed.
Time had passed and I was all set with my classes and dorm and camp was coming up soon. I got a call from Sac State telling me that they were no longer in need of another specialist and that they were going to hold off on bringing me out until the spring, and that wasn’t even guaranteed.
So at that point, I felt stuck. Time was ticking, and I needed to figure out which path I wanted to take. I had no scholarships or walk-ons anywhere.
The next best thing then happened!
I was offered a scholarship to a Division II college in Alabama called Miles College.
I was going to fly out for a visit and see for myself if I would be culture shocked since it was a traditionally an all-black college. It was 2000 miles away from home and would be a big move for me.
I had time to think, and then I was very blessed yet again to receive a call, this time from San Jose State University.
My head coach Jeff Carnazzo put in a great word about me to Terry Malley, a former assistant coach for SJSU, saying that I had compared to the great John Bonanno who had been an awesome athlete at Palma.
I spoke with Coach Malley who then put me in contact with the special teams coordinator at the time, Fred Guidici. Coach G saw me punt and was willing to give me a life-changing opportunity as a preferred walk-on at the Division I level.
I committed to SJSU on the spot and I became a Spartan!
All the hard work had paid off at this point and I’m stoked off life!
DAT SJSU LIFE
Just a week before fall camp of the 2013 season, I was deemed ineligible by the NCAA clearing house because I needed to finish a semester of English from my sophomore year of high school.
Although I graduated with about a 3.3 G.P.A., I needed to handle my business and I didn’t.
With that being said, I was asked to enroll as a part-time student in order to be eligible for a grayshirt and not start my athletic clock. As a grayshirt, I wasn’t able to workout, eat or practice with the team until the season had passed and it was the spring semester.
During that time, I worked out on my own, busting my tail to finish that class and become eligible. I went to school and lived a normal student life.
Once I was able to join the team for spring ball and I was cleared, life was great! My opportunity was finally here.
I was given number 38 for my jersey, and back in the day, we actually had a separated locker room just for the walk-ons. The lockers were about a foot wide with no way to sit in them unless you were a stick.
I was a young dude coming in and didn’t have many friends on the team. I knew that this life was going to be tough, but I never knew this game would actually change my perspective on life and help me grow into a better person.
I had to battle two other punters who were already on the team, gunning for the job which was open for me to snag after Harrison Waid graduated in 2013.
Spring ball went well and we entered fall camp still competing for the job.
About a week before the first game is when Coach Guidici told me I was the starter!
This was a very surreal moment for me as a player and for my family as well which has been there for me throughout this whole process.
I started as a true freshmen in 2014 and was blessed to make it “big time!” I have a huge support system at home from family to friends, so it was just awesome to be in the spotlight and truly making my dreams a reality.
I wasn’t the best punter as a freshman, but I managed to get the job done. About mid-season during Fresno week, Doug had come up from Salinas to get a punt session in, and my mom came up with him for some reason. My mom walked me into the stadium and relayed the news that she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer.
At the time, my mom was a few months pregnant with my now two-year-old sister Isabella. I was confused to say the least because it didn’t seem real. The season was rough, but my mom was just so positive and uplifting that she made cancer look defeated. I remember we played at Utah State that very next week and it was her first day of chemo therapy. The game was at 7 p.m. and she drove 12 hours straight from the doctors to see me play in 15-degree weather! But we finished the season 3-9 and it was tough to grasp.
As a walk-on, I was hoping to make progress on a scholarship opportunity since I had started as a freshman in all 12 games and was getting better day in and day out. I had some progress to make as an overall athlete, and of course, as a punter, so when I wasn’t awarded a scholarship, I began to play and act as if I had a chip on my shoulder and a mission to complete.
Although my emotions were high because of my mom’s sickness and my newborn baby sister in the spring of 2015, I managed to find a way to be in a happy place and stay motivated. My mom was a warrior and I knew that I had to fight for her and show her that we can fight together and get through anything. We were both going through adversity and she just reminded me to stay positive and keep living my dream of playing football. So it began, the fight was ours to tackle! Soon after my sister was born, my mom, Amy, went in for surgery. She was then diagnosed cancer free! It was almost a dream come true and gift from God.
Coming into the season, I had worked my tail off to shed some weight, get stronger and prepare to contribute more to our overall success as a team. I was primed and ready to go! During camp for the fall 15 season, my mom was yet again diagnosed with cervical cancer. As this ongoing battle with cancer took off for the last time, I was trying to be poised and stay strong for my mom. She was at every single game that season as I was honored to receive All-American honors, First Team All-Mountain West and we locked in a win at the inaugural Cure Bowl.
I went into the season with an even bigger chip on my shoulder than before, one so big that I wasn’t even mad that I had no scholarship. I was so worried about life and the people that meant most to me were becoming a priority, which was a big step in my growth as a person and young adult. I was living my dream and I was fueling my family and healing them through my fight and my effort to be great on the field, making them happy and representing the family well, and with pride.
After the season on December 10th, 2015, I was blessed enough to take my mom, dad, brother, and girlfriend to the College Football Awards show at the college football Hall of fame in Atlanta,GA. I was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, which is given to the best punter in the country. The experience was first class and I was able to hangout with Ray Guy himself. My mom was able to make the trip although she had been very sick at this point. I wasn’t chosen to win, however it was incredible to even be on the pedestal with all the other great athletes. Soon after we went to play in the cure bowl, which was very iconic given my particular situation. The whole CBS Sports network did a special feature on my family’s story, which was one of the toughest things i’ve ever done. My mom was the highlight of the night and received a lot of love from all sources, including CBS, family, friends,alumni and more. The game went well, we took the win and the best memory of my entire life was being able to go back up in the stands after the game and give my mom a great big hug, as that was the last game she got to see me play in.
I was then invited to go back east to Yale University for the Walter Camp Football Foundation for the All-American weekend and banquet which was just unbelievable. I was among 22 other athletes from all over the country, and we all were praised for our phenomenal seasons and congratulated with a plaque. This was the last trip my mom made as she was getting weaker by the days.
After the 2015 season, my mom’s cancer had spread tremendously fast, causing her great pain which ultimately left her bedridden. The spring of 2016 was a very tough one because we didn’t know how long it was going to be for my mom as they started to shut down the chemo treatments, and she wanted to be at home and in peace. I was juggling school and ball and work because at this point I am still not on scholarship. There wasn’t enough time in the day for me to be able to go home and back to San Jose to see my mom as much as I wanted, but I did what I could and cherished every opportunity.
Spring ball came around, and halfway through my mom passed away on April 4th, 2016. I had a lot of support coming from all angles, though it was tough for me to get a grip at times. I appreciate so many people who have helped push me along my path to continued success. Despite the adversity, I had my brothers to lean on, and my coaches who were there as role models. This team and university has welcomed its arms to me and they will forever be my family.
One month after my mom’s passing I was awarded a full athletic scholarship. Once the season had started it was all so surreal because deep down, gamedays did not feel like gamedays. The days went by slow but my thoughts and emotions were going 100 mph. I used my outlets, continued to stay positive and had a great junior year, finishing in the top 15 in the nation at punting. I received honorable mention for the Mountain West and was elected First Team All-Group of five.
Since I came here in 2013, a lot has changed in my life, some for the better and of course some not so great. A year has passed since my mom lost her battle to cancer and I couldn’t be where I am today without a pigskin. I now have high hopes for playing at the next level and this year is the deciding factor. I am now kicking off and holding for field goal as an extra position other than the punter. Looking forward to letting everything fall into place and i’m just going to continue to do me — graduate with my degree in spring, and on to new beginnings.