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Australian kicker James Stefanou hopes to build on ‘surreal’ CU debut

Texas State at CU Buffs

When: Noon, Saturday

Where: Folsom Field

TV: Pac-12 Network

Radio: 94.1 FM and 850 AM

Every player on the Colorado football roster has weathered a unique journey, often overcoming adversity along the way, to realize their Division I dreams.

None of the 2017 Buffaloes, and perhaps few in the history of the program, have arrived in Boulder with quite the back story as kicker James Stefanou.

A 30-year old former soccer player from Australia, Stefanou described stepping on to Sports Authority Field last Friday in front of nearly 74,000 fans as “surreal.” With his first-game jitters out of the way in a debut that showed promise, Stefanou is aiming for a little more consistency as the Buffs get set to host Texas State Saturday in their first game this season at Folsom Field.

“Our fans were louder (last week), which was great,” Stefanou said. “That pushed us over the line, which is really good. It was a really good experience.”

Once, Stefanou was a promising soccer player who earned a spot on the Australian U-19 national team. Before last week, Stefanou estimates the biggest crowd he played before was in the 15,000 range. If the crowd roughly five times that size gave Stefanou pause while he lined up for his first field goal attempt as a Buffalo it didn’t show, as he nailed a 39-yard field goal that gave CU an early 10-0 edge.

However, in the fourth quarter Stefanou’s second attempt from 38 yards sailed wide left. CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said Stefanou was dealing with a minor injury last week and didn’t kick in practice leading up to the CSU game.

“It’s an opportunity to play in a professional environment, and maybe have a chance to play a professional sport,” Stefanou said. “Going abroad and doing that was always something I wanted to do playing soccer. When this opportunity came up I jumped at it.

“I watched (football) growing up. My dad was a Vikings fan. My uncle was a Redskins fan. I was a Niners fan. We watched it growing up. Back in the day we only got to see it a little bit on TV, but cable has made that better. I never went to school and I always wanted to go to school. Getting a good education here at Colorado is fantastic. That part always appealed to me, too. It’s taken a little getting used to but I’m getting there.”

When Stefanou finally decided to pursue his American football dreams, he enrolled in ProKick Australia, an instructional organization that has sent dozens of place kickers and punters to Division I football as well as the NFL. Despite Stefanou’s age, it was his background with ProKick Australia that made MacIntyre comfortable with bringing a married 30-year old rookie into the mix.

“I think James is a great fit. He comes from a program over there that has sent 70 kids — or 70 men, however you want to say it — to Division I, Division II programs,” MacIntyre said. “We felt really good about his talent, the coaching he was getting, and we really like who he is as a person. He’s doing really well.”

While Stefanou enters his first game at Folsom Field as the Buffs’ primary kicker, CU has options if he falters. Chris Graham knocked down the Buffs’ first extra-point attempt against CSU, while Davis Price handled all four kickoffs. Price recorded touchbacks on all four attempts.

“Davis Price kicked off really well. We were glad to see that,” MacIntyre said. “He’d been doing that all camp and we felt like he could do that in the game. Chris Graham kicked the (first) extra-point good. Chris Graham practices at every position we have and he’s very valuable to us. He’ll have to kick at some point this year and come through just like he did last year. But James is our kicker right now, and hopefully he stays healthy and everything goes as it should, because he can really get the ball up quick.”

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