Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, James Stefanou had his eyes on a career kicking a ball.
Like many outside the United States, that meant soccer, not football.
"Soccer was a sport I grew up playing and loved," Stefanou said in an interview with Buffzone.com through Facebook. "Playing professionally overseas was a dream I'd been clinging on to."
Now, Stefanou is chasing a new dream.
Last week, he signed a letter of intent to play football at Colorado with plans of arriving in Boulder in early June. After several years of training at ProKick Australia, Stefanou will come to CU trying to win the job as the Buffaloes' starting placekicker.
"It's been in the works for a while, so the excitement has been building and building," said Stefanou, who will turn 30 on April 15th. "On the day of the official announcement, it really hit me that I'm getting the opportunity to play for the Buffs, a great team who are on the rise following an outstanding season."
Colorado is coming off its best season in years, going 10-4 and winning the Pac-12 South division title. The Buffs have struggled with their field goal kicking over the past two years, however, and now will look to Stefanou, who has no football game experience, to give them a lift.
Stefanou, who has never been to the United States, said he grew up watching football. His uncle was a big fan of the Washington Redskins and his father a fan of the Minnesota Vikings. Stefanou became a fan of the San Francisco 49ers.
An elite level defender in soccer, Stefanou played professionally for South Melbourne FC, and it was about six years ago that he started to give thoughts to playing football. He began training at ProKick, an academy that helps to transition players to the kicking and punting styles of American football.
"From the first time I kicked a football, it felt completely natural to me," he said.
He quickly knew that kicking in American football was something he wanted to pursue, but to do so, it required a major life decision.
"In my mind to be fully committed to it, I needed to have firmly made the decision to give up playing soccer," he said.
Training at ProKick, which has produced the past four Ray Guy Award winners — given to the top punter in the country — has given Stefanou the confidence that he's ready to help the Buffs this fall.
"With the coaching of John Smith at ProKick, I've only developed and fine-tuned my skill set," he said. "I'm at a point now where I will contribute immediately."
While he has given up soccer, Stefanou believes his elite level experience in that sport will help him during game days at CU.
"Competing at a high level and playing for Australia has given me plenty of experience dealing with necessary pressures and challenges, where now I welcome them and use it as motivation to succeed," he said.
Stefanou said Smith and ProKick's Nathan Chapman helped him find the right school.
"Johnny had always pictured Colorado as a great fit for me as I'd be working with Matt Thompson, who has plenty of experience with kicking and will only make me a better player," Stefanou said.
Thompson, who is CU's director of quality control for special teams, has worked for years as a kicking instructor. Once the connection with CU was made, it took several weeks of paperwork and jumping through hoops to get Stefanou signed.
Stefanou said he is eager to meet his new teammates and isn't worried that many of them will be 10 or 12 years younger than him.
"Age is just a number," he said. "Young in the mind, young at heart."
Stefanou said CU has not talked to him about punting, but joked, "I don't mind a rugby-style kick.
"Initially my focus is on place kicking but whatever makes me a better professional I'm willing to work on."
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.