Apocotos knows time is coming where he’ll be asked to win a game
UC Davis’ football season may soon hinge on its sophomore kicker’s foot.
Dusty Apocotos doesn’t mind. He has been preparing for that fate all season.
Very little separates the Aggies and NCAA Division II playoff opponent Texas A&M-Kingsville. Both teams are 9-2 following upset victories last week. Kingsville is the West’s third seed, the Aggies the fourth. They also have a history of playing tight postseason games.
As a result, the former Whittell High School soccer star may be on the spot on Saturday afternoon in Kingsville, Texas.
“The coaching staff has told me that they’d be relying on me a little more and to be ready,” Apocotos said. “I thought it could come down to me, so have to have that mindset when I practice. I put myself in the postition that I’m going in to kick a game-winning field goal.”
Last week, the Aggies (9-2) upset the West’s top seed, previously undefeated Central Washington, 24-6. Apocotos booted his only field goal attempt, a 37-yarder, through the uprights.
“Those guys were pretty crazy in warmups, talking about how they were going to the national championship game in Alabama,” Apocotos said. “We know how hard it is to get to the final game, so they basically put a pretty good challenge on us.
“It was fun to look into their crowd of 6,000 shocked fans … a fun experience to be the underdog and play the 1-0 No. 1 team and beat them on their home field.”
Apocotos didn’t make one field goal in high school, only because he didn’t play football. Soccer was Apocotos’ game and he played it very well, earning the Nevada 3A Division II MVP his senior year at Whittell High. He made a quick trasition to placekicker with the assistance of his grandfather Ray Pelfrey, a former placekicker, punter and receiver for the Packers and Giants, and uncle Rob Pelfrey. Ray runs a professional kicking service, which tutors high school, college and prospective pro kickers.
Last year, he was beaten out for the kicking duties and settled for a few spot kickoffs in home games. This is Apocotos’ first full season placekicking and he has responded by making 5-of-7 field goal attempts. The only two he missed were from 48 yards, one of which was blocked.
“Earlier in the season, I was hoping I’d get more opportunities, just so I could get the experience. I wanted to put the pressure on my shoulders,” Apocotos said. “I don’t want to be selfish, so whenever we start getting into field goal range, I’m hoping to go in to kick an extra point. It’s really fun to be on a team like this.”
The high-scoring Aggies have given Apocotos many extra-point tries, keeping him game sharp.
“I’m extremely happy with the way I’m kicking,” Apocotos said. “I’ve seen a couple kickers in the past who were really accurate and then it comes to this time of the season and they don’t lose that accuracy, but they kind of lose their leg.
“I’ve had no problem backing up to 50-55 yards. My leg is still strong.”
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Apocotos also takes pride in playing “safety” after kicking off. In the season opener against No. 1 Grand Valley State, he chose the proper angle to make a touchdown-saving tackle on a returner.
“I probably don’t hang back as much as I’m supposed to and I ran across the field and wrapped him pretty good,” Apocotos said. “No one looks at the kicker as being one of the tough guys, so my teammates gave me some props on it.”
Apocotos credits snapper Nate Hackett, the son of New York Jets’ offensive coordinator Paul Hackett, and holder Mike Olivo, a Division II All-American receiver, for much of his early success.
“Nate has been snapping all his life and Mike always gets the hold down,” Apocotos said. “I definitely have confidence in those guys — they are the two best in the country — and they make it much easier on me.”
This week, Apocotos may be called upon to sky his kickoffs to neutralize the Javelinas’ strong return game.
And he may look up at the scoreboard late in the fourth quarter and see his Aggies losing 19-17. He may go on to see a third-down pass fall to the ground and his coach gesturing for him to go onto the field.
He welcomes the opportunity. Besides, he hasn’t been kicking long enough to feel the pressure.
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