BOULDER – Don’t address the 30-year-old freshman kicker from Australia as “Sir.” It makes him feel old.
As for any sort of age joke, go ahead, because Colorado’s James Stefanou has heard them all — and usually it’s him cracking them.
“I figure if you make the jokes, they’re not going to make them for you,” he said.
The former soccer standout has quickly come of age as a kicker for the Buffaloes (3-0). Stefanou is 6 of 7 on field-goal attempts this season and has hit all 10 extra points heading into Colorado’s Pac-12 opener Saturday against No. 7 Washington at Folsom Field.
A little background on the player from Melbourne: He got married in May, lives in a hotel close to campus, was a defender in soccer and loves everything about American football, except maybe all the contact. He went through a tackling drill the other day and got a little banged up.
“No more of that,” he said. “If I have to in a game, I’ll be fine. I’ll just get them low.”
Stefanou’s first attempt at kicking a football occurred when he was about 22 years old and hanging out with friends at a park Down Under. One of his mates held the football and the other stood about 40 yards away. Stefanou lofted the kick into the arms of his friend on his first attempt.
“He’s like, ‘You’re going to come down and have a kick with the guys,’” Stefanou said.
That’s how he ended up at Prokick Australia , an academy developed to assist in the transition to American football by providing the fundamentals of punting and kicking. Some of the pupils include the last four Ray Guy Award winners as the nation’s best collegiate punter: Tom Hornsey of Memphis in 2013, Utah’s Tom Hackett in ‘14 and ‘15 and Mitch Wishnowsky of Utah in ‘16.
The Buffaloes were clued in about Stefanou through the program, saw some film and offered him a scholarship last spring .
“I haven’t had any 30-year-olds in college before,” coach Mike MacIntyre said. “We felt really good about his talent and the coaching he was getting. We liked who he is as a person. He’s doing really well.”
Still, this football thing has taken some adjustment. Namely, playing in front of so many fans. Being older, though — his birthday is April 15, 1987 — plays into his favor.
“It’s helped a lot in terms of mentally being ready for this,” said Stefanou, whose longest kick this season is 40 yards. “Because it’s not anything you can replicate back home. You can train and practice as much as you want, but you can’t replicate the crowd. You can’t replicate the noise. You can’t replicate the rush.”
He insisted he doesn’t miss soccer. If he craves the game, he’ll simply watch Manchester United in the Premier League.
Stefanou played at a high level, representing his nation on its under-19 squad and suiting up professionally for several squads. He even went to Greece to play, but became homesick and returned to Australia.
“I won’t do that again,” he cracked.
That’s because he’s made himself right at home in Boulder. His wife, Laura, joined him on campus and is completing online coursework. He’s hoping to soon get her a puppy, for when he’s at road games or studying.
About that, it’s been challenging hitting the books again after such a long layoff from school.
“Writing papers and having deadlines,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m acclimatizing quite well.”
By the way, he’s not the oldest player on the FBS level this season. That distinction belongs to Western Michigan punter Derrick Mitchell, who is three months older than Stefanou after playing minor league baseball before returning to football.
As for how far his field-goal range might extend, Stefanou’s not quite sure. He did connect on a 63-yarder while with Prokick Australia.
“I’d like to think I feel comfortable from 50 to 55,” he explained. “That’s what I’d like to think.”
Being 30 does have some perks for Stefanou. For one, he rarely takes a backseat to any of his teammates on car rides.
Well, except when Buffaloes defensive back Ryan Moeller is around.
“He never lets me sit in the front seat,” Stefanou lamented. “I tell him, ‘Respect your elders. Let me sit in the front.’”