Education & Service 

Just warming up

Alumni Athletics Diversity FCB Hispanic

NAU alumnus Luis Aguilar successfully balanced football and school and is ready for his next adventure.

Luis Aguilar (BS Marketing, ’20; MEd Human Relations, ’21) can take the heat. As a high school student in Nogales, Luis braved the southern Arizona sun on the soccer field, the baseball diamond, and the golf green. “I was a multi-sport athlete in high school, and I decided to take on football for my last year,” he said. That was when things really started to heat up.

“I kind of fell in love with it,” he said.

In the position of kicker, Luis thrived and earned All-State and All-Conference honors, surpassing players who had far more experience. Word of his prodigious talent got out, and soon he received calls from multiple college recruiters. One of those recruiters was then-NAU football coach Jerome Souers, who arranged for Luis to visit the Flagstaff campus.

Early on in his visit, Luis felt right at home at Northern Arizona University. “I absolutely love the campus, and I like the city,” he said. “It’s a small city, kind of like Nogales, so it was not that different.”

On the last day of his visit, Luis was touring the Walkup Skydome, home to NAU’s Lumberjacks, when he was invited to the head coach’s office. “I got offered a full-ride scholarship, and it was obviously a dream come true,” he remembers. “And my parents were right outside.”

Accepting the offer was easy, he said. “Not a lot of people from Nogales get offered full rides, especially to play a Division I sport.”

At that moment, Luis saw his hard work pay off in a big way. He made plans to pursue a business degree and moved up the mountain in the fall of 2016. The future was bright. He was on fire.

But soon, Luis felt the burn. Like many freshmen, Luis started to sweat under the weight of new responsibilities. “I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “The first year was kind of rough, just trying to balance football and school.”

Smothered under a packed schedule of rigorous classes and football practice, Luis fumbled his grades and his game. Just when it seemed like he was about to fizzle out, he found himself on the receiving end of a stern admonition from his coach.

“Which is what I needed,” he said. “I needed a little spark.”

Fired up with a renewed sense of focus and determination, Luis bettered his academic and athletic performance in his sophomore year and continued to improve. By his junior season, Luis had developed into one of the nation’s best kickers. He set multiple school records, including the most kicking points in a season (118) and longest successful field goal (57 yards). Still, he remained humble. When he received the Fred Mitchell Award for Outstanding Kicker in 2019, Luis, near tears, said only “Thank you so much. It’s a huge honor.”

After that season, Luis’s phone rang nonstop. “I was getting a lot of contacts from NFL teams,” he said. “The Vikings were calling a lot, the Raiders reaching out to my high school, reaching out to my coaches.”

When asked about his chances of being drafted into the NFL, Luis said, “They’re really high.”

It seemed inevitable that he was about to begin a career in professional football.

Then, just before his graduation, the coronavirus pandemic hit. Luis made the difficult choice of opting out of the NFL draft in March of 2020 and shifted to Plan B. Building on an undergraduate degree in Marketing, Luis stayed at NAU and pursued a Master of Education in Human Relations degree. Thanks to an eligibility extension granted by the NCAA, he continued to play football and become further involved in the NAU community.

Recently, Luis was nominated to join the Presidential Transition Commission to support incoming president José Luis Cruz Rivera. He accepted and found himself alongside other students, faculty, and community members tasked with describing the culture of NAU to the new president. When asked to summarize his thoughts, Luis said, “NAU is family-oriented. I’ve gotten so close with all my teachers. They care about you in the classroom and outside the classroom.”

NAU is family-oriented. I’ve gotten so close with all my teachers. They care about you in the classroom and outside the classroom.

Despite a tough start and a global pandemic, Luis is charging forward with the same fire that originally brought him to NAU. Now finished with his master’s degree, Luis plans to give the NFL draft another shot. If that doesn’t work out, Luis is confident that his experience with the NAU community will have provided him the education and relationships he needs to be successful. He recalls that after receiving the Fred Mitchell Award, coaches and committee members all expressed their desire to help further his career. “They told me, hey, any time you need anything, a reference, a recommendation, whether it’s for an internship, or a job, or whatever it is, just let us know,” he said. “We’re all family here; you just joined the brotherhood.”