Alex Vega’s college football career was like a roller coaster, marked by euphoria one moment and frustrating lows the next. Vega, a recent Cal Poly graduate and former Gilroy High standout, persevered and ended his collegiate career on a high note as he earned all-Big Sky Conference Third Team honors. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Vega is currently training in San Luis Obispo for the Cal Poly Pro Day, in which Vega will kick in front of pro scouts in hopes to land a free agent offer.
“Consistency is the big thing,” said Vega, who converted 11 of 12 field goals and was perfect on 39 point-after attempts this past season for a Cal Poly team that finished 5-6 overall and 4-4 in conference. “Consistency is what everyone wants. Just going into it I’ve got to be physically and mentally prepared. I’m going to kick and lift as much as I can to stay in shape and get ready for it.”
Even though Vega never attempted a field goal longer than 41 yards this past season, he said he is capable of connecting from 55 yards and in. Success in kicking—like any other sports skill—often comes down to a mental battle, not a physical one. The best kickers trust in their training and don’t let a seemingly momentous occasion rattle them. When Vega kicks in front of pro scouts—with his football career on the line—he plans on doing what he’s always done.
“I really don’t try to think about it too much,” he said. “I go out there and am confident in my ability so I don’t worry too much.”
Vega’s career at Cal Poly got off to a storybook beginning. In his first-ever college game—as a recruited walk-on, no less—Vega nailed a 49-yard game-winning field goal to give the Mustangs a 20-19 win at the University of Montana, setting the table for what turned out to be an excellent season. However, Vega lost his starting place kicker’s job in both his sophomore and junior years, making for a rather disappointing and frustrating couple of seasons.
“I just got beat out and lost my job,” he said. “I still traveled and went to all the away games but didn’t play.”
From an auspicious beginning to losing his starting kicker’s position for his sophomore and junior seasons—Vega did punt 10 times as a sophomore—he kept on grinding away, hoping he would take back a starting spot. That happened this past season, and Vega experienced equal parts joy and relief.
“It was definitely humbling, but what kept me going was the drive to prove I deserved to be playing,” he said. “I started off my career with super high expectations and then they brought in guys who beat me out my sophomore and junior years. I got the opportunity my senior year (to compete for the starter’s spot) and never looked back. I showed the coaches I still could kick at a high level and still deserved to be starting and maybe showed them what they were missing out the last couple of years.”
Some players in Vega’s situation would’ve transferred; however, Vega is the type of person who likes to finish what he starts, and he remained resolute toward the goal of finishing his athletic career and graduating with a degree from Cal Poly.
“In my situation transferring is one of those things you think you can do and probably should do, but I had no desire to leave Cal Poly because I started here and I wanted to finish here,” he said.
Vega only attempted 12 field goals this season because Cal Poly often goes for it on fourth down. Despite the lack of a regular work load, Vega was grateful that his attempts hit double digits.
“It’s probably the most field goal attempts a kicker at Cal Poly has attempted in a season in five or six years,” he said.
Vega credits his older brother, Ben, for helping him develop into a bona-fide college kicker. Ben also kicked in high school and college, and Alex was 12 when he started shagging balls for Ben, who practiced almost everyday at Gavilan College. The two would be out there for hours, with Ben giving Alex pointers and supporting him through every stage of his development.
“He is probably the most import person in this process,” Alex said. “He’s the guy I go to if I’m having a bad day or a bad couple of weeks. He’s a guy who can look at my film and give me confidence because he’ll be another set of eyes to examine my kicks and point out something important.”
Vega knows it’s now or never to leave his mark. Come March on his Pro Day, Vega will have to put his best foot forward to gain the attention of pro scouts.
“The first two years after your college career is over—the first year being huge—are the most important,” Vega said. “If you make an impact in your first year, there is a good chance you’ll get some looks or get invited to mini camp. If you don’t get interest after that first year, maybe it’s a sign that things aren’t going to work out. Any opportunity I have to play in whatever pro league is out there is definitely worth it if it means I can stay in the game. I’m open to anything.”