Family first: K Blake Mazza goes in depth on SMU transfer, expectations
A Lou Groza Award finalist in 2019, former Pac-12 kicker Blake Mazza spoke to The HillTopics about the decision to transfer to SMU.
Forgive Blake Mazza if you happen to meet him with a huge smile on his face. When good news tends to double down, it's a normal reaction.
The upcoming summer for SMU's new kicker addition is expected to come with plenty of happy endings and new beginnings. New chapters and high expectations for happier endings of the future.
Mazza is expected to marry his fiancee, Makenzie Wise, in Mexico on June 17, putting an exclamation point on a long-distance relationship that has successfully lasted three years. Following a wedding in Cabo San Lucas, the newlyweds will honeymoon in Cancun.
The pleasure trip then will turn businesslike after the honeymoon for Mazza. A former Washington State standout, Mazza will head to SMU for fall camp.
After making tons of noise as a specialist in the Pac-12, Mazza decided to pack up and finish his career much closer to home. It's a decision that left some Washington State fans with questions after a three-year stint with the Cougars that includes several recognizable accolades.
It was a move where Mazza immediately had to answer the same question repeatedly: Why?
"After the 2020 season, I talked to my parents and my fiancee," Mazza told The HillTopics immediately after he announced his decision on social media. "I told them this was something I'm passionate about. I really wanted to play close to home and spend my college career letting them see me play."
To which he then added: "The biggest things in my life are my family and my faith."
Family over everything
The thrill of hitting a long field goal and knowing you have the confidence of your teammates. To Mazza, the feeling is indescribable.
At Washington State, Mazza made history during the 2019 season by connecting on his first 18 field goals and 20 of 21 attempts overall as a redshirt sophomore. He was one of three finalists for the Lou Groza Award, which is given to the nation's top college football kicker.
But to Mazza, that thrill admittedly has less of a luster when family isn't there to help him celebrate.
Being a Plano, Texas, resident -- and a former high school teammate of SMU cornerback Brandon Stephens -- Mazza understood when he arrived at Washington State that family trips to Pullman, Washington, wouldn't happen as often. Plane tickets from Texas to the Pacific Northwest aren't cheap.
Consider Jan. 26 an executive decision. On Jan. 20, Mazza officially entered the NCAA transfer portal in an effort to get closer to home. Six days later, he literally got as close to home as he could while also playing FBS football, committing to SMU after a few conversations with both head coach Sonny Dykes and associate head coach/special teams coordinator Chris Brasfield.
"I trained with Chris Naggar in high school and college," Mazza explained. "After I heard he was heading to the NFL, I put some pieces together and realized there could be an opportunity that presented itself.
"Obviously, it worked out pretty well for me."
In a few months, Mazza will have everything he wants. He'll be a married man, and he'll play college football only a short drive away from all the people he loves and cares for.
The decision hits Mazza harder when he thinks of his grandfather. Dominick Mazza first taught him the basics of kicking, as he was a multisport standout from New Jersey who, after moving to Texas, helped Blake fall in love with the art of kicking at a very young age.
Last spring, Blake's radiance and happiness took a hit. His grandfather passed away in March. He was 70.
Add in the fact that COVID-19 was beginning to wreak havoc across the world. Spring football schedules were being canceled. As COVID-19 became more of a global pandemic, the Pac-12 in August voted to postpone its football season for the 2020 season.
Washington State played in only four games this past season. The Cougars finished with a 1-3 record, but also had three games canceled. Two of the games -- against Cal and in-state rival Washington -- were supposed to have been played at Washington State's Martin Stadium.
All of this was happening in an area of the country where Mazza couldn't make a short trip to visit family for comfort.
"Everything added up," Mazza said. "My family was obviously supportive, but it's a little bit of a burden to be that far away from family and not be able to see them. With my grandfather passing, it really made me wish they could see me more in person."
Mazza often thinks of his decision to transfer. He never hated Washington State. After all, it was the school that gave him a chance to excel. The 5-9, 183-pounder earned a scholarship with the Cougars after spending a year at Arkansas as a walk-on.
As a redshirt freshman, Mazza made 60 extra points, the most in a single season in Washington State history. The following year, Mazza, in addition to making 20 field goals, made 55 of 57 extra points. He accounted for 115 points, which was the most by a Pac-12 kicker that season.
In 2019, Mazza joined Georgia's Rodrigo Blankenship and Iowa's Keith Duncan as the finalists for the Lou Groza Award. Blankenship, who now kicks for the Indianapolis Colts, won the award.
While excited to even be considered among the nation's best, Mazza said not winning the award is something that consistently drives him. This drive is something that SMU will benefit from, as Mazza is the first to admit that competition flows deep in his blood.
"My mom and dad can tell this story better," Mazza said. "Growing up, I was probably in kindergarten, I asked my parents to drop me off about a mile from the house. I told them I'm going to start running and beat them home.
"I tried for about two years in trying to beat them home. Obviously, I never did it, but I've been competitive my whole life. If you're not competing in this business, you're not going to go far."
To prepare for the 2021 season, Mazza has been training with Naggar, who is preparing to kick professionally. Mazza will be part of an intriguing kicking battle that will include Charles Cannon, a part-time starter on the kickoff team in 2019, and Brendan Hall, a 6-7 athlete and 2021 signee with a big leg.
Mazza will have two years of eligibility remaining, which means he'll have two seasons to enjoy all of the moments at SMU with his family. And while his grandfather physically won't be able to see him shine at Gerald J. Ford, Mazza is excited to put on a show for the rest of his family and friends who remember him as the Plano standout who was a three-year starter and was ranked one of the top kickers in the 2017 class.
In a matter of months, he'll have his immediate family watching games live, he'll have a wife side by side, and he'll have a familiar environment that will help keep a smile on his face.
"I'm able to play 20 minutes from home," he said. "It's such a blessing."