From playing soccer competitively in the small border town of Nogales to breaking the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) record for longest field goal in 2019, first-generation graduate and Northern Arizona University star football kicker Luis Aguilar looks back on his time at NAU with gratitude. Now he has his sights set on the NFL.
Though Aguilar always dreamed of becoming a professional athlete, he never planned on playing football professionally or even in college. Growing up, he played basketball, baseball and soccer and planned to pursue a position as a Division I collegiate soccer player.
“I grew up in a household full of sports fanatics,” Aguilar said. “It also was full of a lot of support, love and high values.”
This foundation, along with a supportive community of teachers, coaches, mentors and friends, shaped Aguilar and his future in incredible ways, allowing him to make connections on and off the fields. It was in high school that Aguilar shifted his focus from soccer to football.
As a devoted soccer player, his high school coach asked Aguilar if he was interested in kicking for the football team his junior year. Aguilar decided to join the team, attending summer workouts and practices. The summer before his senior year, he went to a few college camps hosted by NAU, Arizona State University and the University of Arizona that were specific to kickers. He finished as the top kicker and punter at every camp and later won a field goal competition at an Arizona Cardinals kicking camp. The culmination of experiences led Aguilar to make the switch from soccer player to collegiate football player.
For Aguilar, football was only half of the equation at NAU. As the first in his family to attend college, earning an education while continuing to play the sport he loved meant everything. Graduating with a degree in business marketing, Aguilar said he will cross a huge milestone.
“There is life after football whether you make it to the league or not. Getting my degree will allow me to pursue other professions in life that not only interest me, but will allow me success in those endeavors, independent of football,” Aguilar said.
He remembers everything felt so new his freshman year at NAU—the people, the city, the climate and the team. It was through these experiences that Aguilar met some of the most important people in his life. Being an athlete significantly shaped Aguilar’s time at NAU.
“I learned a lot about hard work, both in the classroom and on the field. Having to balance schoolwork, 6 a.m. lifts, practice, classes and meetings every day required me to be at my best mentally and physically. I was being held to a high standard by both my coaches and faculty,” Aguilar said. “At the end of the day, being a Division I student-athlete taught me a lot about time management, mental toughness and accountability, among other traits that I can translate to the real world.”
His time at NAU gave him plenty of opportunities to explore himself by discovering new interests, failing miserably at some things and succeeding in many others.
“My four years spent here at NAU were well worth the adversity to triumph this game of life. If you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to play college sports, I would encourage you 100 percent to do it. Although I’m not saying that it will be easy, because nothing worthwhile in life is ever achieved without shedding some sweat and tears.”
In the 2019 season, Aguilar kicked a 57-yard field goal, which was the longest field goal in the Football Championship Subdivision for the year. Aguilar was named the Fred Mitchell award winner for being the most outstanding placekicker in FCS Division I, Division II, Division III and NAIA. He also was awarded seven other First Team All-American honors.
Aguilar intends to pursue a place in the NFL after graduation. If that does not work out, he hopes to do marketing for a Division I athletics program.
“I tend to look back and think to myself how one year, I am kicking a football for my high school team, then boom, four years later, in a journey full of success, failures, life lessons and hardships, I am graduating from NAU. I feel so fortunate. If I had to do it all over again, I would in a heartbeat.”