Joe Arenas was Omaha University’s first player in the NFL. When he retired after seven years with the San Francisco 49ers, he held the league record for kick-return yardage.
On Twitter, UNO announced that Arenas, 94, died Tuesday. He had been living in south Texas.
Arenas is considered one of the first Hispanic stars in the NFL. He led the league and still holds the 49ers record with his 34.4-yard kickoff return average in 1953. His career average of 27.7 is eighth all-time, with Omaha Central graduate Gale Sayers the leader.
Arenas started 49 of his 84 games with the Niners in the offensive backfield. He scored 18 touchdowns, including a game against the Baltimore Colts in which he returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns.
“Buck Shaw, the coach, liked my hustle,’’ Arenas said in a 1979 World-Herald interview. “If he wanted a kickoff return man, I was there. If he wanted a punt return man, I was there. If he wanted a left halfback, I was there. I just wanted to play.”
In his autobiography, former Niner quarterback Y.A. Tittle mentions how Arenas jumped in when the offense was asked to line up on the first day of training camp.
“Before anyone else can make a move, Arenas hops in,” Tittle wrote. “Rookies aren’t supposed to take such liberties, but there he is, big as life. Everyone looks at everyone else in amazement.”
Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Guadalupe Joseph Arenas attended Lincoln High where he lettered in baseball and basketball and was on the Links’ second team in football before entering the Marines in World War II. He was injured at Iwo Jima.
Still known as Lupe, he was at Nebraska for one year and made the varsity basketball team. He transferred to Omaha U., became known as Joe, and played four years of football and basketball ending in 1950-51. He was ninth in the nation among small-college players for total offense in 1950.
The Niners took him in the eighth round of the 1951 NFL draft.
After retirement, he entered business and moved to Houston in the early 1960s. From 1963 to 1986 he also was receivers coach at the University of Houston. In the 1980 Cotton Bowl game against NU, an Arenas receiver, Eric Herring, caught the winning touchdown with 12 seconds left.
Arenas entered the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 1977. He is survived by daughters Vicki and Tracey.