As an eighth grader in Georgia, Alejandro Mata was in a gym class when the teacher took the students outside to play kickball.
“I get five home runs, all balls kicked over the school,” Mata told BuffZone recently as he recalled that moment. “That’s when the Coach asked me if I was ever interested in kicking (in football).”
A year later, as a freshman in high school, they began learning how to play football. And, now, he’s on his way to kick for the Colorado Buffaloes.
“I’m really excited,” the Jackson State transfer said. “That’s been a dream ever since I started football back in ninth grade. Just getting to this level and looking forward to seeing the names that came out of Colorado, such as Mason Crosby. It’s a great feeling.”
Mata parlayed his success at Buford (Ga.) High School into a Scholarship at Jackson State a year ago, where he kicked as a true freshman for the Tigers and their head coach, Deion Sanders.
After Sanders, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who now goes by “Coach Prime,” was hired as the head coach of the Buffs on Dec. 3, Mata made the decision to follow him to Boulder.
“I like to refer to him as a dad,” the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Mata said. “I think I see him as a father figure. I probably shouldn’t, but I think I do. He’s a cool man and I look up to him. My dad looks up to him.”
Mata’s journey to CU has been long and uncommon.
Born in Honduras, Mata and his family moved to Mexico before he turned two and he lived there for eight years. After several years in Brazil, the Matas moved to Georgia when he was in the sixth grade.
“I was the only Mexican in my school at the time,” he said. “It started off rough, I’m not gonna lie. There was a little bit of a language barrier. I knew the basic stuff about English but I couldn’t maintain a full conversation, and my accent really didn’t help either.”
Mata adapted quickly, however, and in addition to going to school, he continued his love of playing soccer. There was always a curiosity about football, however.
“It all started in Brazil, really,” they said. “My dad introduced me to Fantasy football and I started watching the games. … Then I started playing ‘Madden’ (video games) and started learning all the all-time legends, such as Coach Prime, Michael Strahan, Lawrence Taylor, all the big names.”
Mata quickly made the connection that he might be able to play football.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s a position in football that requires kicking,'” he said. “In Brazil I didn’t think much of it. After I moved to the United States I was like, ‘I have a chance.'”
As a senior at Buford in 2021, he went 60-of-63 on extra points and 9-of-13 on field goals in helping his team to a state title. They played at Buford with current Buffs Victor Venn and Aubrey Smith.
This past season at Jackson State, Mata earned Sanders’ trust by going 51-of-52 on extra points and 12-of-13 on field goals. His only misses were blocked.
“Pretty interesting,” he said of his year at JSU. “Really blew my expectations out of the water. All the support that we got from (fans) was amazing.”
Mata said it wasn’t an easy choice to transfer this winter because of the friends and relationships he built at JSU. Then he talked to his father.
“They’re like, ‘Are you crazy? Of course you’re going to Colorado. You’re following Deion; I don’t care what you say,'” Mata said.
Cole Becker, CU’s kicker the past two seasons, has since transferred to Utah. But, Mata will compete with another newcomer, Arizona State transfer Jace Feely.
In addition to continuing to play for Sanders and having the opportunity to test himself at the Power 5 level, Mata is excited about coming to Colorado, where roughly 21% of the population is Latino – a dramatic difference from Georgia (about 10%) and Mississippi (roughly 3%).
“I’m getting a lot of support from Latinos (in Colorado), saying you’ve got to represent,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s been a while since I had a lot of Latino friends like that, so I’m hoping to make some strong bonds over there.”
Between a pair of high school teammates and a host of JSU coaches and players coming to CU, however, Mata isn’t worried about fitting in.
“Oh yeah, for sure,” they said. “I’m not worried about starting over because I know that going there I already know a couple people.”