It was the middle of summer, and Noah Alejado got a text from his football coach, Rod Sandberg.
The Whitworth coach’s first message was straightforward enough: Get ready to compete for the starting job. But the next message – which clarified the job for which he would compete – wasn’t what the Pirates’ junior receiver expected.
“The next text he sent is a little GIF of a kicker,” Alejado said, “and I’m over there looking on my phone thinking in my head, ‘Is he serious?’ ”
For a few days, Alejado still thought it was a joke. But then he started talking to teammates.
“They said, we really need you to come up and here and compete, because you might be the guy,” Alejado said.
Turns out he is the guy.
Alejado, who caught a pair of touchdown passes last year as a sophomore, has taken over as the starting kicker, punter and kickoff specialist for a Whitworth team that aspires for nothing less – and far more – than a Northwest Conference championship. The 23rd-ranked Pirates (1-1) open conference play Saturday at home at the Pine Bowl against Willamette (1-1).
“He was our emergency guy, and this year he needed to be the guy,” Sandberg said of Alejado. “He’s really stepped up.”
The Pirates ended last season with a pair of young kickers on their roster. Kevin Ramsey, a sophomore a year ago, made 3 of 4 field goals and 10 of 11 extra-point attempts through seven games, but he eventually lost the starting job to Cody McDonald.
McDonald, a freshman last year, finished as the team’s starter, hitting 10 of his final 13 field-goal attempts and 42 of 44 extra points. He also took over punting duties from Ramsey.
Ramsey left the program after the season. But McDonald did the same midsummer for personal reasons, and that left the Pirates desperate for a kicker.
It’s a position Division I and II programs struggle to fill with reliable players, let alone a Division III program such as Whitworth.
But lucky for the Pirates, they already had Alejado. A soccer and football player in high school, Alejado played receiver, kicker and punter for his high school team in Hawaii, although he hadn’t kicked or punted since his junior year there.
So far, his kicking performance has been at least as good as his predecessors last year: He connected on a 27-yard field goal in a 37-30 loss to Chapman, his only attempt so far, and he has hit all nine of his extra-point attempts.
He has punted 15 times for an average of 39.6 yards and a long of 55. Last year, Ramsey and McDonald averaged a combined 35.7 yards on 55 punts.
Alejado had one punt blocked against Chapman, however, something for which he took the blame.
“I missed a PAT, had a punt blocked, and that’s on me,” he said. “I need my teammates to be able to trust me. I trust all 10 of them, and I need their trust.”
Alejado takes all his roles seriously and is aware of the extra pressure kickers and punters operate under: A missed field goal is usually more visible and costly than a dropped pass, he said.
But he has tried to maximize his time on the practice field so neither happens, and his teammates have noticed.
“It’s funny when he’ll go from running routes, and then straight to kicking,” said senior receiver Taylor Hall, one of the team’s four captains. “When we practice, one minute, he’ll catch a ball. We’ll send the Air Force unit on to kick a field goal and he’ll back up and kick it in. He’s been pretty solid for us. It’s been nice having him, for sure.”
After Alejado, the Pirates list freshman Alvaro Ontiveros at kicker. At punter, the backup is senior Nick McGill, another wide receiver.
Last year, Alejado caught seven passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Although he only has one catch this year, he said he would love the opportunity to do in a game just what he does sometimes in practice.
“I think it’d be pretty cool if I catch a touchdown, and then right after that, stay on the field and kick a PAT,” Alejado said.
Sandberg said Alejado is not the only player at a position that’s different from what he was recruited to play. He appreciates the junior’s willingness to step into the new role.
“He’s a gamer. He’s a big-game guy, a pressure guy, and it’s been a huge blessing for our team that he’s stepped up,” Sandberg said. “He’s our kicker going forward. He’s the guy.”
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