The past couple of years have been filled with dramatic changes for James Stefanou.
After trading his soccer career for a pursuit of football, Stefanou moved from his native Australia to Boulder, got married and enrolled in college classes for the first time at the age of 30.
None of those changes were as eye opening as learning recently that his wife, Laura, is pregnant. The couple’s first child is due Feb. 7.
“It’s fantastic for us and that’s given me a lot of perspective,” said Stefanou, Colorado’s junior kicker. “You’re always motivated … but, it’s humbling. Everything is in perspective. I still care so much about football, but it starts to feel it’s just a game. Enjoy it, have fun and do what you started.”
With some added life perspective, Stefanou has come into preseason camp eager to put together his best season with the Buffs.
During the past two seasons, Stefanou, who played professional soccer for nearly a decade, has hit 22-of-30 field goal attempts and all 66 of his extra points. His 131 career points rank 10th in CU history for kickers.
Last year was a struggle, however. He wasn’t healthy coming into fall camp, fought through it during the first six games and then missed four because of the injury.
He’s now healthy and said he had a “great” offseason.
“The strength staff was fantastic with me, as they always have been, and this year they took another step to keeping me healthy and devised a program for me which was really friendly for me,” he said. “I feel the strongest I’ve ever felt. I’m awful ready to kick the ball. For the first time I’m confident I’ll go in without an injury.”
Stefanou said he was so excited about his renewed health that he actually had to temper his excitement when he returned to Boulder this summer.
“I was like a kid in a candy shop when I first got here,” he said. “I saw a ball and wanted to kick it.”
Stefanou is making sure he doesn’t overdue it in practice. When he’s feeling good, he said, he kicks only about 15-20 field goals in a day – plus live practice reps.
“When it feels good and the operation is good, we shut it down,” he said.
Throughout the offseason, Stefanou’s motivation stemmed from the disappointing 2018 season and his desire to prove himself to new head coach Mel Tucker.
“In the spring especially, they came in and they’ve never seen me kick,” he said. “They might have on film or whatever, but they knew I had an injury last year, so you have to show you’re healthy. I thought I had a really amazing spring and I’m carrying it over.”
Stefanou can’t take his spot for granted, because senior Davis Price and redshirt freshmen Evan Price and Tyler Francis are all capable of handling the job. Evan Price and Francis went a combined 6-for-7 on field goals last season in Stefanou’s absence, while Davis Price is 4-for-7 in his career.
“The pressure is always there,” Stefanou said. “If you don’t give yourself that pressure, you’re never getting better. The other guys are great kickers and we push each other every day, so it’s fantastic.”
Stefanou said the coaching transition has been “pretty amazing” and that’s contributed to his excitement for this season.
“I’m feeling the most confident and most comfortable I’ve been, and yes, probably because it is my third year,” he said, “but also just the belief you get from the coaches straightaway and they want us to win and it’s that simple.”
The NFL could be in his future, but with the perspective of his impending fatherhood, Stefanou is trying to enjoy the moment and do his part for the Buffs.
“Last year, I looked way too forward all the time and I learned from that,” he said. “I thought I’d learn from that playing pro soccer, but being an individual, at the end of the day you’re kicking a football by yourself. It’s different. You have to take each kick at a time, take each game. I think I’ve really started to understand that this year.”