Buffs’ James Stefanou settled, gaining comfort heading into sophomore year

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado kicker James Stefanou made 17-of-22 field goals last season, including nine in a row at one point.

James Stefanou finally felt some comfort this spring.

The sophomore kicker on Colorado’s football team, Stefanou packed a lifetime’s worth of changes into last summer and fall, but came away from spring football last month feeling a little more at ease.

“Coming back and being settled and being on the field in the spring and the offseason training, I wouldn’t say it’s easier, but I’m definitely settled and you know what to expect,” he said.

Stefanou wasn’t sure what to expect last year.

The Australian native, who turns 31 on April 15, grew up playing soccer in his home country. He played professionally for about a decade before deciding to give American football a shot.

After learning the game at ProKick Australia — which has sent several kickers and punters to colleges in recent years — Stefanou earned a scholarship offer from CU a year ago.

That all led to him playing a new sport in a new country, while returning to school for the first time in years. Throw in the fact that he and his wife, Laura, were married last May and 2017 was quite a whirlwind.

“Those are pretty big, drastic changes,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “He handled all of that, to me, incredible.”

Making it even more impressive was that Stefanou played well. He made 17-of-22 field goals last season, including nine in a row at one point. He was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award before missing three of his last four kicks (two of which were blocked) over the last two games.

That tough finish is part of what drives Stefanou this offseason, as he pushes to be even better next season.

“Just a few little technical things,” he said of what he’s working on this offseason. “Not muscling up as much on the longer ones. Things like that which tend to come a little bit when you’re tired and fatigued toward the end of the year. It’s more about conditioning the body and making sure you’re doing the right things to keep strong throughout 12-14 games or however many games we play.”

Although he had never played football before last season, Stefanou never looked like he didn’t belong on the field. And, having players rush at him every kick never bothered him.

“It never really got to me, to be honest,” he said. “Playing soccer, people are running at you and sliding at you all the time.”

More than anything, it was standing on the sidelines waiting for his chance to play.

“It’s more of when are you going to kick, when are you going to go out there and realizing exactly the situation you have to be ready for,” he said. “I’m definitely more comfortable with that now and I’m a lot more relaxed during camps and knowing how it works and periods when you’re kicking and when you’re not.”

This spring, Stefanou fought through a little freshman fatigue from the season rolling into offseason training, which rolled into spring drills.

By the end of spring, however, Stefanou said, “I do feel more comfortable hitting the ball now.”

Stefanou has also developed a great rapport with new holder Alex Kinney — the Buffs’ starting punter — and incumbent snapper J.T. Bale.

MacIntyre said Stefanou had a “really good spring,” but also said Bale made a jump with his snapping, putting more velocity on the ball and placing it with more accuracy.

“Having a new holder in Alex, he’s been fantastic, and the snaps from J.T. are perfect like always,” he said. “I can’t complain; it’s been good.

“I was working on what I need to improve on with coaches and getting better all the time.”

He is eager, however, to return to Australia in May, for the first time since last summer.

“It feels like I’m going home in May for a holiday and I’m coming back home here after that for summer,” he said.

When he returns to Boulder, he will at least know what to expect.

“I’m settled,” he said. “It’s cool.”

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33