Texas A&M-Commerce kicker Jake Viquez is one of the last people off the field after a spring practice. He looks around as he sets up his place holder and boots through a 45 yarder into the gentle but ever-present Commerce breeze. No problem, it would have been good from 55 yards. He kicks a few more before he picks up his equipment to get ready to get out from practice and back to his room. He has homework to do and a lot of it. Computer Information Systems majors always seem to have a long list of things that are never done. Life is strange right now. There is a global pandemic, and therefore, might not be a spring game the way things are looking, some are even talking about a delayed football season, but Jake knows whatever life throws at him, he can handle. After a short life of 22 years that has seen more than it’s share of triumphs, tragedies, rejections, and redemption, Viquez knows one thing more than anything else, he is happy to be where he is at.
Jake Viquez was born in Dallas but spent the beginning of his life in Greenville, TX, 15 minutes down the road from Commerce. His Mother is a real estate agent, and his father an accountant for an energy company. From the start of his life, Jake had to wrestle with tragedy. On the day he drew his first breath of life, a day that is always a joy for any parent, it became a tragic day for the Viquez family. Jake lost his older brother that day. An auto accident took away his brother Jonathan, 18 months older than him and his aunt. It does not get much harder to celebrate your birthday on the day that your older brother that you never got the chance to know passed away along with a beloved relative. Viquez has told very few people this; “It’s not something I like to share and just tell anyone, but I have come to terms with it. I think about a lot of the what-if’s, like what if he and I had played sports together, or could he have played college sports with me? Things like that.” Something that Jake keeps on his phone and near to him both mentally and physically is a picture of his father, his brother, and he the day he was born all together.
“To me, he has always been there from a spiritual sense. Like, even when I knew he wasn’t there physically, I knew he was there spiritually. At dinner, I would pull up a chair and say “this is where Jonathan sits” and just act like he was there with all of us.” In High School, I made it more about celebrating his life and that we were together and he was a part of me. It wasn’t until he got older until he realized that his circumstances were bigger than him. “I saw how my Mom took it, how she processed it..just the grief of losing someone, and how my entire family processed it, it was not easy on any of us, but especially my Mom.”
It was Jake’s Mother that made a move early in Jake’s life that would start his journey. He had spent his early elementary school days in Greenville, having future Lion standout Running Back Carnadal Hale as his classmate. Having an eye for a good property investment with her real estate experience, his Mother could see that a fast growing area 15 miles closer to DFW on a beautiful lake that was within sight distance of the Dallas skyline was where a family could be raised and in the right environment. It was a place of opportunity, where the Viquez family could press on despite their early setback. It was Rockwall, Texas, and it was where his story was just starting.
From the age of 3, Jake starting kicking some kind of ball. “My Dad is from Costa Rica, and he loves soccer, and he got me into playing it pretty early. I played from that time on and played up through middle school.” Once he got into High School at Rockwall High, Viquez found himself in a position that many large school athletes find themselves in. He had played club soccer for the first 10 years of his life and could only play one sport. It was soccer or football, and he wanted to try to football and after having a chat with his Father over it, the question became less “why?” and became “why not?” “I was a freshman and had no idea what I was doing, but I decided to go out and play and kick for the freshman team.” His decision to do that, even his decision to go out for football, was the first and perhaps the most important step in his journey to kick for Texas A&M-Commerce. It caused him to meet one of, if not the best, kicker in Lion football history, Billy Watkins.
Pretty much every Lion fan knows about Billy Watkins. For almost 2 decades, he was the leading scorer in program history. He was known as the little guy with the big leg from just down Interstate 30 east, in Sulphur Springs. For 4 years, his clutch kicks and big time kicking performances from 1990-1994 made him legendary. Watkins had gotten into coaching and landed in Rockwall, and in the fall of 2012, met a young and inexperienced kid with no experience, but had raw potential. “When I first started kicking and started getting coached by Coach Watkins, it made me realize I had no idea what I was doing other than just putting my foot to a ball. I had to listen to and see how to be successful.” Watkins agreed; “He was very raw and needed some work…..but he worked his butt off and would never quit working. Just like the fans have seen him in Commerce he will not be overworked….the guy does everything you ask.”
After kicking for the Freshman team, Viquez moved up to the JV his Sophomore year and kept putting in work, and that work was honored when the Jackets made the playoffs and Jake was moved up. It gave him the experience he would need in the future. It was during that time though that he had an experience at a weekend camp of a current Lone Star Conference team and Lion opponent that he has never quite forgotten. Jake and his Father made the drive up Highway 287 to kick in front of coaches of this school and had a humiliating experience. “I was trying to kick and in high school, most kick off blocks for PAT’s and Field Goals. Well, I lined up and the head coach kind of laughed and said they didn’t kick off blocks college. Im like “I’m barely 15 years old and this guy is running me down. He let me kick a few times without the block and told me I did not have what it took to kick in college. He gave me tickets for the game that night for my trouble but my Dad and I left and did not come back.” That flat rejection fueled Viquez even more to prove the doubters wrong.
Heading into his Junior year in high school, he nabbed a full time Varsity spot, but in mainly a back-up role. Getting to kick from time to time helped, but when the playoffs came, Rockwall’s main kicker got benched and Viquez found himself in, just in time for the playoffs. Rockwall went 3 rounds deep, losing to Spring Westfield, led by University of Houston All-American and current Buffalo Bill Ed Oliver. He kicked well and made his first Varsity field goal in the playoffs, all of this causing him to work that much harder. His Senior year, he was the uncontested starter and nailed all of his PAT’s and most of his field goals. That year, Rockwall High School went to the 4th round of the Texas State playoffs, bowing out to a Lake Travis squad led by current Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer. For his performance his senior year, Viquez was named 2nd team all-district as a place-kicker, and honorable mention as a punter. The next question was could he kick on the next level; the college level.
To say Jake Viquez had a unique recruiting experience would be an understatement. He got virtually no serious looks from any schools except one, Missouri Valley College, an NAIA school of around 1,300 students in central Missouri. The Vikings had a strong NAIA tradition but the super small enrollment and environment led to Viquez looking elsewhere, even in the very late part of his Senior year. After talking about it with his parents and thinking it over, he decided to walk on at Division I-FCS Stephen F. Austin. However, he heard about an unsigned senior tryout just up the road at Texas A&M-Commerce. He told his coach that he was going to try to kick at his alma mater, and nobody aside from Jake could have been pulling for him more than Billy Watkins. When he arrived at Memorial Stadium, and met All-American punter Hector Dominguez. The two started to talk and then it was his time to show what he could do. Kicking in front of Dominguez and a couple of other coaches, Viquez was measured about how he felt after that tryout; “I felt I had done ok, but nothing spectacular. I just did the best I could possibly do.” It turns out, his best was more than good enough. Lion Head Coach Colby Carthel called Viquez about 10 days later to offer him a spot on the team. “It was surreal, we drove up to Commerce and had kind of a small impromptu signing ceremony just so we could celebrate something. I let Coach Watkins know and he was thrilled. It was a great feeling.”
“The Left Foot”
Viquez arrived in the fall of 2016 and despite showing up for fall camp, was redshirted. Kristov Martinez, the only kicker who could rival Viquez’s mentor Billy Watkins as the best ever in the kicking department in Commerce, was the firmly entrenched starter after starting as a redshirt freshman, and much like his relationship with Watkins, he became close with his predesccor. As a redshirt freshman, Viquez did what redshirt freshman do. “I picked up the footballs, did my place in practice, and whatever else was needed of me.” 2016, the Lions won the Lone Star Conference and advanced to the second round of the NCAA playoffs. In 2017, the magical year where the Lions returned back to the top of NCAA Division II football, Viquez got his first taste of collegiate action.
The coaching staff at Commerce wanted a two punter system. Viquez was a tremendous traditional punter, but Freshman Tristan Perry was what the staff wanted for a running rugby punter. “We had this two punter system, I was left footed and traditional, Tristan was right footed and could do the rugby style, plus we could run fakes since he had played quarterback in high school.” In the first game of the 2017 season in an 8-7 win over North Alabama, his 55 yard punt that pinned UNA inside their own 2 yard line led to a sack that gave the Lions a critical 2 point swing. “I’ll never forget that” he says with a smile. Despite not getting to play in the playoffs or in the National title game due to dress limit restrictions, he celebrates 2017 as a great year in which he won a national title and got his second straight ring, playing in 7 games. “I wear that thing with a lot of pride.” 2018 was much the same, as Tristan Perry got the majority of the punts and was named all conference as Jake ended up only playing in 5 games and punting only 12 times. Kristov Martinez was finishing up his remarkable career, becoming the all time leading scorer in program history and notched 6 All-American awards. Despite the winning, Viquez was personally frustrated with his lack of individual success. He wanted more, so he worked, and worked, and then finally, his time came.
“Two taps and a point to the Heavens.”
Heading into the 2019 season, there was anxiety among the fan base regarding a new coaching staff, and new players at key positions. Jake was one of those under extra scrutiny due to the success of Kristov Martinez, and he would need all the support he could get. In the Summer of 2019, just months before the season was set to start, Jake Viquez once again lost someone close to him that was part of his support group, his Grandfather. “He had been to every game, whether I played or not. He got to see me punt some, but never kick. This was the first year he was going to see me kick. It was so tough that he passed away. He was always there.”
Despite his heart being heavy, Viquez did what he has always done, he pressed on. Heading into the season, he was still not feeling fully entrenched as the main kicker. After the Lions scored their first touchdown of the season, Viquez missed his first PAT by hitting the ball in a line drive wide right, much to the chagrin of the fans. That would be a rare thing. After that, Viquez was perfect the rest of the way. After the next game at Western Oregon, Viquez found out that he was a national leader in some kicking categories, but he still stayed motivated as he felt he had not fully gotten what he was wanting. In the next game against Eastern New Mexico, he was a perfect 6 of 6 on PAT’s and in his 3rd game, hit a 43 yard field goal.
“That is when I felt like I had finally gotten to a point where I could say I felt good about where I was at, but not satisfied.” Something that fans noticed was after a made point after or a made field goal, Jake taps his wrist twice and points to the sky. The two taps are there to pay homage to his brother and his grandfather. “It is my way on saying I am doing this for them, and in front of them, and a way I feel I know they are always there with me.” 2019 was full of surprises for Lion fans, aside from the Lions notching an 11-3 record and a top ten ranking with a finish in the national quarterfinals, but Viquez was part of that surprise as well. He went from a seldom used punter to taking the job as to handle kickoffs, extra points, and all field goals. He hit 15 of his 21 field goal attempts with a long of 48 yards and was 51 of 54 on extra points, netting second team All-LSC honors, and conference special teams player of the week in November. Not bad for a guy who was told just 6 years ago he could never kick on the college level.
To 2020…..and Beyond.
The sun is setting in Rockwall, Texas at the Rockwall High practice field. Jake Viquez places a ball against a tee and takes one step and puts through a 57 yard field goal with plenty to spare. Then he does it again. Jake Viquez wants more, and he expects more. He wants to be an All-American kicker. He wants to be the best kicker in the nation. He wants to be a National Champion again, this time with him getting the kicks. He wants to graduate in December with his Computer Information Systems Degree, and he wants to get some professional looks for his body of work. He might be kicking somewhere next August or he might be doing computer programming. Both require skill and are something not everyone can do. It requires work. Jake Viquez knows about work.
But that is in the future, something that is unknown and not given and Jake Viquez has learned the next day is not promised to any of us, and knows that fact more than just about anybody else his age. His unassuming disposition shows a well mannered college kid that is quickly becoming a Man, being molded by the good and the bad that has happened in his life. He picks up his tee and looks up one final time at the sky before going home. He knows his brother and Grandfather are proud of him and what he has done. He is grateful for the love his parents, coaches, teammates and family have shown him in his journey to kick at one of the best Division II programs in the NCAA. He knows all that he has accomplished was done with grit, tenacity and hard work, and he knows what he wants, and is willing to pay the price to get it.
And as he walks back to his car to go home for the night, he knows one final thing.
Whether at home in Rockwall with his parents and sisters, or in Commerce at the brand new football facility, or on road trips with his teammates, where he is, he is happy to be here.
Wherever “here” is.