So far, so good.
That’s the update on Matt Maldonado, who was a freshman kicker last season for Wisconsin-Whitewater. I reported on Matt for our “Recruiting during a pandemic” project story that we published the last day of 2021.
Maldonado, a 2021 Yorkville graduate with something of a rags-to-riches story, had taken a leap of faith a few weeks earlier.
Four days after completing a successful freshman season for the NCAA Division III powerhouse, Maldonado entered the transfer portal. He believes he has what it takes to kick at the Division I level and wants to prove it.
He will get that chance after committing March 18 to a preferred walk-on offer from Murray State, a Football Championship Subdivision school in western Kentucky that competes in the Ohio Valley Conference but could be moving to the Missouri Valley in 2023.
“I feel competition breeds success,” Maldonado said. “I was one of eight kickers at Whitewater trying out for the kicking jobs when I went there.”
Before the season ended, Maldonado had won all three, handling field goal and point-after kicks, kickoffs and punts for the Warhawks (13-1), who came up one short of reaching the D-III national championship game.
It was quite a calendar year for Maldonado, who had played soccer through his sophomore year in high school before switching to football.
As a junior, Maldonado was behind senior Cole Riebe, who later accepted a preferred walk-on offer at Toledo.
Maldonado started in his senior season, which was pushed back to the spring by the Illinois High School Association due to the pandemic and shortened to six games.
His only roster offers were from D-III schools, which don’t offer athletic scholarships.
That’s important to Maldonado, who wants to help his parents financially since he has three younger sisters who also want go to college.
It’s hard not to pull for a young man like Maldonado, who doesn’t shy away from competition.
Murray State (6-5) counts returnees in all-conference senior Aaron Baum, who handled fields goals and PAT kicks last season; redshirt junior Lewis Halton, who handled punts; and redshirt sophomore Zaden Webber, who took care of kickoffs.
“The coaches told me it will be an equal playing field and it will be up to me and the other guys,” said Maldonado, who also had a Division II offer from Minnesota State Moorhead. “Whoever they feel can do the job best will play.
“I didn’t transfer to sit back. My primary focus is field goal and kickoffs, but the goal for me is to win any of the jobs.”
Maldonado originally thought the process would go quicker and he would have an offer in time to start the spring semester at his new school.
Instead, he’s taking classes at Waubonsee Community College that will transfer with the courses he took at Wisconsin-Whitewater. He works out on his own.
The 6-foot-2 Maldonado, who played at 170 pounds in high school, said he is now “pushing 200, which I hope will me increase my distance even more.”
Interest picked up after he had a strong showing in late January in Dallas at a camp conducted by nationally known instructor Jamie Kohl for transfer kickers and uncommitted high school seniors.
“It was my first time in a plane since I was 4,” Maldonado said.
He ranked second among the 120 kickers after the first day and was among 12 finalists who advanced to the second day, which was streamed live on YouTube.
He finished seventh for the weekend.
Coaches from Georgia State, West Virginia and North Dakota State were among a handful of schools that contacted him after the camp, but when no offers popped up with the interest, he agreed to the offer from Murray State coach Dean Hood.
“Morehead felt a little too far away from home and those winters up north are so cold,” Maldonado said. “Kentucky was 20 degrees warmer than here in Illinois when I visited, and the warmer it is, the better it is for kicking.”
Hood’s background also helped sway him.
The Racers’ head coach will be in his third year at Murray State. It was preceded by eight years as head coach at Ohio Valley rival Kentucky State, followed by three seasons as special teams coordinator/outside linebackers coach at Kentucky.
“It was really good hearing that,” Maldonado said. “Having a head coach with that special teams background, I’m pretty sure he will place an emphasis on it.”
And Maldonado hopes to work his way to a role again.