Dusty kicks up a new career
If you do something one way all your life as Dusty Apocotos did, there obviously is some reluctance to change.
But Apocotos, a 1999 graduate of Whittell High, realized last year that he’d never be any more than a club soccer player at UC-Davis, so he enlisted in “boot camp.”
Of course, Apocotos’ boot camp was quite a bit different from the one that army enlistees sweat through. Since coming to terms with the end of his soccer career, the 1998 Nevada 3A Division II MVP has been kick-starting a new career.
With the help of his grandfather Ray Pelfrey, a former placekicker, punter and receiver for the Packers and Giants, and uncle Rob Pelfrey, Apocotos has developed into a college football kicker. Starting Saturday, the junior will try to earn the No. 1 kicking spot for the Aggies, annually a threat to win the NCAA Division II title.
“It’s unusual,” said Ray Pelfrey, whose professional kicking services business continually tutors high school, college and pro prospects. “I’ve only had one kicker in 20-something years that didn’t play college football that we trained and put in the NFL. That’s almost similar to what Dusty is doing.”
Apocotos only put the pads on once in high school, playing spring ball as a freshman. He started kicking 18 months ago and quickly caught on with the Aggies last year as a redshirt.
“I always kept kicking in the back of my mind in case soccer didn’t work out. Honestly, I didn’t think soccer would fall through,” said Apocotos, who was cut when he tried out for the Davis soccer team as a freshman. “I think coach made a really good decision to give me another year to practice with the team. Now that I’ve had a few years to practice with the team and get used to the pads, it’s not awkward for me anymore.”
Neither is his kicking motion. The Pelfreys taught him a wedge style that puts the inside of the foot flush with the football. Consequently, Apocotos feels he has longer range without sacrificing accuracy.
“My natural kicking motion was soccer style, but it hasn’t been that hard of a transition,” Apocotos said. “The wedge style gives me a large, flat hitting surface and causes more explosion off the foot.”
Ray Pelfrey became convinced that his grandson had the skills to kick collegiately during a camp in South Lake Tahoe earlier this summer. Apocotos literally went toe-to-toe with Purdue’s 6-foot-6 senior kicker Travis Dorsch.
“He really surprised me,” Pelfrey said. “I knew his leg was strong and he was hitting the ball decently, but we made a change in technique to give him more height on his kicks, and his kicking from that point just soared.”
In the thin mountain air, he and Dorsch’s kicks sailed through the posts from 60 yards away.
“It’s been wonderful working with him and seeing him develop,” Pelfrey said. “But the credit has to go to Dusty because he has taken a heavy load in studies and went out last year and met the coach and asked if he could go out. Now, I would be surprised if he doesn’t win the Davis job.
“If his kickoffs get stronger, Dusty could be a pro prospect in two to three years. There’s not many pros who can hit from 50-60 yards, which Dusty can do now.”
To win the Davis job, Apocotos, a freshman eligibility wise, won’t need to beat out a returning starter. His main threat is Shasta Junior College transfer Dan Ackley and last year’s backup Bill Sayre.
“Nothing is set in stone, but I really really am confident that I can go in and be the kicker,” Apocotos said.
If Apocotos wins the starting kicking spot, his coaches better keep close tabs on him. As a former WHS point guard in basketball and leading scorer in soccer, Apocotos is accustomed to being in the middle of the action.
“That’s one of the things I dislike about being a kicker, sitting on the sidelines a lot,” he said. “But it’s a clutch position.”
However, Apocotos’ workload may double if he handles the punting chores.
“He has all the power and all the moves,” said Pelfrey, assessing his grandson’s punting ability.
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