While many of his classmates spent Saturday mornings sleeping in, Redondo Union High graduate Christopher Nick Diaz was out on the field at 5 a.m., chasing after the footballs he sent flying 60 yards with his powerful right leg.
Diaz woke up before school during his senior year to get in a gym workout and train with his stepfather, Larry Lewis, before classes started. Even after football season he trained with just as much effort, and all that work paid dividends in a scholarship to Utah State.
"Although I'm a kicker, my training is very similar to everyone else. Training goes all year round and includes running, lifting, and kicking," Diaz said. "However, kicking is a unique exercise where a person could only develop the physical body so far—90 percent or more of kicking is a mental game. The mental game is what separates good kickers from great kickers. So my main focus for training is developing the mental game, compartmentalization and focus, because if the mind is right the body will follow."
His life revolves around training and conditioning, while his diet, social life and studies revolve around football. "I have decided to dedicate my life to football because I absolutely love it. Everything about football is a special thing," Diaz said. "For me football is more than just a sport. It is a way of living. Giving everything you have and developing core value such as honesty, integrity, and responsibility."
That work ethic and discipline has not gone unnoticed at Utah State. ''The first thing I've got to say is Nick is as hard a worker as we have on the team. He works his butt off, takes pride in what he's doing and it shows,'' Utah State tight end and special teams coach T.J. Woods said.
Playing football has taught Diaz to be self-disciplined. After hitting 33 of 34 extra points and 4 of 7 field goal attempts as a senior at Redondo Union, he was a first-team All Bay league selection as well as the special teams' player of the year. His determination led the way to National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame for the Los Angeles Chapter awards.
Diaz left three days after his graduation to begin training with the Aggies in Logan, Utah, spending the rest of his summer preparing to start in the opening game at Oklahoma.
He struggled with his consistency early in fall camp and did not kick in that game— a close 31-24 loss to a Sooners' team ranked seventh in the nation at the time. But by the fourth game of the season the true freshman had taken over the kickoff duties for the Aggies, and last week played a huge role in Utah State's 31-16 upset victory over in-state rival Brigham Young.
With the height he gets on his kickoffs and the Aggies' solid kick coverage team, only one of his eight kickoffs has been returned for more than 21 yards.
''We've drastically improved our kickoff coverage since he's been in the game,'' Woods said. ''The last two games have been very positive for us and that's a direct reflection on his kicks. If we don't kick it well, we've got issues. It's really about hang time, and any time we kick off we want a 4.0 (seconds) and Nick can kick it 4.1, 4.2," he said, adding that Diaz can put the ball inside the 5-yard line and directionally kick it to put the team in good position to cover.
Diaz, Woods said, worked his tail off and won over the coaching staff. As he continues his college career, Woods said, he will get a chance to handle the field goal kicking for the Aggies as well.
"It took me a while to accept my new responsibilities as a college student and athlete, but I got the hang of it," Diaz said "Although I miss my family and friends, I knew that they wanted me to chase my dreams. So I didn't get homesick. Everyone's positive energy gave me excitement and an attitude that focused me on this football season."