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A Salute to the 2017 Alabama Seniors: Steady Andy Pappanastos worked for everything he earned

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Alabama v Florida State Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Kickers, the saying goes, are wired a little differently than most. But, like most, their journey still begins with visions of glory and more than a little fandom. Such was the case for an athletic five-year old Andy Pappanastos:

This dream began many Christmases ago. Paul and Julie Pappanastos filled a den with gifts for their two boys, Ryan and Andy, who awoke and were drawn to the most uncommon of them all.

Weeks earlier, Paul bought $35 in PVC pipes, erected it into a goalpost and uprights, stuck it into a tire he filled with cement and placed it with Santa Claus’ delivery for his sons. A soccer player and the gift’s intended target, Ryan was 9. His 5-year-old brother followed.

A decade later, Pappanastos was still kicking, both on the soccer pitch and at the uprights. While playing at Montgomery’s Trinity, Pappanastos became a star at a position where it is hard to gain attention: He was a three-time 3A All-State pick; he was a MaxPreps and Kohl’s Kicking All-American; he scored 279 points with an accurate-if-not-overpowering-right leg -- the third most kicking points in Alabama prep history. Pappanastos owns the Alabama high school career record of 48 field goals, and that is just two short of the all-time national record. Unusual for a kicker, he was also a two-way player at Trinity, suiting up at safety where he was the starter for three years. And, for good measure, Pappanastos also tossed in a two-year letterman career in soccer, where he was an All-Metro selection.

After graduation, Pappanastos drew some attention from several of the SEC West programs, but he only held two offers: Ole Miss and Western Kentucky. The Montgomery native went to Oxford, but, after seeing relatively little action and being buried on the depth chart behind Gary Wunderlich, decided it was time to come home and follow in his family’s academic footsteps at Alabama.

For the Tide, the timing worked out perfectly. Adam Griffith would be a senior the same year Pappanastos regained eligibility. And, given the Tide’s uncertain kicking performances since the graduation of Leigh Tiffin, the competition would only help the team.

Griffith won the starting job in 2016, but Pappanastos still saw action for Alabama: he averaged 57 yards on kickoffs and was 6-for-6 on PATs, and likewise perfect on FGAs, knocking his first 33-yarder home against UT-Chattanooga.

Entering this season, the Tide’s kicking game was far from certain. Pappanastos did not have the best Spring. The Tide had not had much luck with its formerly-committed kicking prospects either, having previously lost Eddie Pineiro to Florida and then Brandon Ruiz to Arizona State (both of those kickers would be All-Americans, BTW.) The Tide turned to US Army All-American Joseph Bulovas, but it became apparent early that he would require some more strength and development to be a starter at the college level. The Tide had all-everything punter J.K. Scott on hand, a decorated high school placekicker with a huge leg. And, then there was the almost-forgotten Andy Pappanastos.

Pappanastos won the regular job, though there was still talk that he and Scott would split duties on a situational basis. It was not an auspicious start, however. The mechanical issues Pappanastos had in the Spring carried over in the Biggest Opening Season Game Ever: He trotted out on to the field early in the first quarter against FSU, and pushed a 43-yarder wide right. The next time opportunity he got, he kept his head down, followed through with his kick, and there was no doubt about the 34-yard attempt that gave the Tide a 3-0 lead. But, on a night where points would be hard to come by for everyone, Pappanastos shared the Tide’s general struggles, going 3-of-5, with misses from 41 and 43 yards.

The kicking game seemed to be an open question that would perhaps linger through the season. It turned out, it would not be. Pappanastos corrected his mechanics, and over the next few weeks would be perfect: He went 5-for-5 on PATS and had two short field goals against Fresno State. His resurgence culminated the next week in a night tilt against the Rams, as he was called upon to show off his leg against Colorado State. First, he hit a career-long 46 yard attempt. Then, he followed that up with a 43-yarder, both to the raucous approval of the Bryant-Denny faithful.

These were kicks everyone assumed J.K. Scott would attempt. But, given the opportunity, Pappanastos made the most of it and seized control of the starting job in the process. The job was his.

Alabama placekicker Paul Andrew Pappanastos was gone: Pappa Nasty was born.

Pappanastos’ early season success was not an aberration. Seven games into the season, Pappanastos led the SEC in made-field goal percentage, and finished the season a perfect 51-of-51 on PATs (the latter was tied for the SEC lead.) Pappanastos made 15 attempts for the Tide, and had a regular-season accuracy rate of 80%, which would be the best Alabama placekicking performance since Leigh Tiffin’s All-American senior season in 2009 (85.7.) He has tallied 96 points for Alabama so far, and his 8.7 PPG are the second-most for any player in the SEC.

While Pappanastos is not expected to be a professional player, don’t feel bad for him. He has not only excelled on the field, but has dominated his studies too. At Ole Miss, Pappanastos was on the Dean’s List three straight semesters, and was a Freshman Academic All-SEC selection. After transferring to Alabama and grayshirting as a grad transfer, Pappanastos began work on his graduate degree; that education was the driving force for his decision to attend Alabama.

If there’s any thing to take away from Pappa Nasty’s time at the Capstone, take away his resilience, willingness to work to improve, and tempering it all with a good sense of humor. Those are skills that will carry him far. While there is not (yet) a signature moment or game-winning kick to his credit, this quote following the Tide’s loss to Auburn says more about the Redshirt Senior than any plaudits we could write:

Maybe you’ll get that catch over the coming weeks, Andy. Best of luck to you in the playoffs and going forward. Welcome to the family of Alabama alumni.

Roll Tide.