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‘Punt God’ Matt Araiza trains for NFL return after exoneration in alleged gang rape: ‘That’s the aim’

The resurrection of “Punt God” is underway.

Matt Araiza, whose mighty left leg led to his legendary nickname, noticed his lifelong NFL dream dashed immediately final August when he was accused of gang rape whereas at San Diego State College.

Araiza, a sixth-round choose within the 2022 NFL Draft, was cut by the Buffalo Bills from a four-year, $3.8 million contract with out even making a regular-season punt every week after a 17-year-old highschool senior sued him and two San Diego State teammates.

She accused them of rape at Araiza’s off-campus home in October 2021, revealing that police and prosecutors have been additionally investigating the trio.

The 17-year-old mentioned she had intercourse with Araiza, then 21, exterior the home however claimed he then led her inside the place not less than three different males, together with Zavier Leonard and Pa’a Ewaliko, raped her face-down on a mattress so violently that she was left bloodied and drifted out of consciousness.

The assault solely ended when the occasion was closed down, she claimed.

Paperwork unsealed this week revealed that prosecutors had concluded from 101 minutes of recordings, together with intercourse tapes made by the opposite two gamers, that Araiza — dubbed college football’s best punter in his unanimous All-American junior season — wasn’t even at the party in the course of the alleged assault.

Matt Araiza dominated faculty soccer as a punter at San Diego State College, profitable the Ray Man Award in his junior season. Now he says he needs to get his profession again on monitor after being cleared of rape.
Justin Truong

Prosecutors in San Diego introduced in December that no rape charges would be filed towards Araiza, now 22, and his former Aztecs teammates.

The video proof led them to conclude the encounters between Leonard, Ewaliko and the 17-year-old weren’t clearly forcible.

Ewaliko was charged with possessing little one pornography after his telephone was seized and denies the cost.

“I used to be glad that there was a lot proof and that this wasn’t a ‘he-said, she-said’ factor,” Araiza, who had at all times acknowledged having a consensual encounter with the woman exterior however denied being a part of a violent assault informed The Publish.

Araiza’s punting expertise have been solely seen by Payments followers in pre-season coaching and one pre-season recreation. He was reduce earlier than he made his regular-season NFL debut.
Getty Photographs

“A whole lot of instances like this are and it’s as much as a jury type of guessing. I imply, if there’s no proof both manner, it’s considerably a guess. I’m grateful that’s not the case on this one.”

Araiza is now again at residence along with his dad and mom in Poway, California, coaching exhausting to attempt to break again into the NFL — a aim he acknowledges shall be robust, regardless of his cleared identify, storied collegiate profession and once-promising skilled begin, together with an 82-yard preseason smash towards the Indianapolis Colts.

“That’s the aim,” he informed The Publish. “I believe individuals underestimate how robust it’s to make it within the NFL if you’re a free agent and also you’ve been out of the sport for a 12 months. That simply provides groups questions, so I’m simply in search of the chance to reply these questions.”

Buffalo chosen Araiza within the sixth-round of the 2022 NFL Draft. He shortly impressed coaches, kicking an 82-yard bomb throughout a preseason recreation and gave the impression to be line to grow to be the staff’s starter.

Araiza mentioned he’s “very assured” he’ll be an asset if given a chance, whether or not in Buffalo or elsewhere. His agent has been involved with a “couple” of groups, however the particular groups maven understands organizations usually don’t need gamers to be potential “distractions,” he mentioned.

“I simply assume it’s a really uncommon state of affairs, particularly being a punter,” Araiza mentioned. “If I have been a quarterback — no query — I’d be on a staff proper now. No query by any means, it’s simply the place I play.”

Probably the most troublesome interval since final summer time, Araiza mentioned, was being on the sidelines once more.

That is the 82-yard punt which wowed followers within the Payments’ pre-season recreation with the Colts — now Araiza needs to get again into the NFL to point out his expertise in full.
Buffalo Payments

“It was a journey mentally, for certain,” Araiza mentioned. “It had its ups and downs and there have been days I used to be in a position to settle for it and attempt to benefit from the little issues in life. However then there have been days when the large image was consuming, and I might take into consideration was what I misplaced.

“Watching Payments’ video games — that was brutal,” he recalled. “It was a bizarre factor as a result of I couldn’t not watch them. I used to be too invested. Realizing so lots of the gamers personally, the coaches, having spent the offseason with them, it was fairly heartbreaking to look at.”

These video games pushed Araiza to the brink, he admitted.

“Offended, cheated,” he mentioned of his feelings. “I felt like I had labored my entire life for this factor and the best way it was taken from me was brutal.”

Matt Araiza on the Buffalo Payments apply facility in Orchard Park, simply weeks earlier than he was launched by the staff.
Getty Photographs

Araiza continues to be being sued by the alleged sufferer, who supplied to accept $50,000 — a suggestion he rejected, saying he would contemplate countersuing her and undoubtedly plans to sue her lawyer.

“I’m not keen to pay cash to individuals who broken my life irreversibly,” Araiza mentioned. “It’s simply not one thing I’m keen to do. However I’ll by no means waive my proper to sue her lawyer — ever. That lawsuit is coming.”

Araiza’s lawyer, Kerry Armstrong, has called the civil suit a “shakedown,” whereas the ex-NFL punter isn’t certain if he was accused on account of his celeb standing on campus and sure future gridiron success.

“I don’t know what the motive was, to be trustworthy with you,” he mentioned.

Pa’a Ewaliko (left) and Zavier Leonard weren’t criminally charged in connection to the alleged assault.

The lady, now 18, mentioned Thursday that the recordings which satisfied prosecutors to drop prices present solely a portion of what occurs.

“I don’t assume it exonerates anyone,” she informed USA TODAY Sports.

For now, Araiza mentioned he’s content material persevering with to hone his craft till some staff comes calling.

“I’m probably not somebody who enjoys the highlight, to be trustworthy with you,” Araiza informed The Publish. “I take pleasure in taking part in sports activities on the highest stage, and with that, comes slightly little bit of the highlight, however I’ll by no means be a ‘me-before-the-team’ man.”

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