Alabama kicker credits PGA champion Justin Thomas for his turnaround

USA Today Sports Images
By
Alex Byington
The Decatur Daily

Series: News Feature

Published: Saturday, September 30, 2017 | 12:20 p.m.

TUSCALOOSA -- Andy Pappanastos has heard nearly every conceivable way to butcher the pronunciation of his last name.

But few left as much of an impression as when one person simply gave up trying.

"I remember in high school -- I also played safety -- it got to the point where, it was an away game and (the play-by-play announcer was) butchering it so bad that he just ended up saying, 'tackle by the kicker,' " Pappanastos said with a smile. "That was always pretty funny. That's the one time I've heard it in the game and it's stuck with me."

Given his production this season, announcers all over the Southeastern Conference better learn the proper way to pronounce his name, and quickly.

For the record, it's "Pap-uh-NASS-tis," according to Alabama's own pregame notes package.

When the Crimson Tide senior kicker from Trinity Presbyterian in Montgomery walks onto the field today, he'll do so from the friendly confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium, where No. 1 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) will host divisional rival Ole Miss (2-1, 0-0) at 8 p.m.

A graduate transfer from the Rebels in the summer of 2016, the lifelong Crimson Tide fan has treasured the opportunity to kick for the program he and his family cheered on from Section L on the home side of Bryant-Denny Stadium as a child.

"The opportunity to come here just kind of came up, and it was something that I couldn't really turn away, especially getting back to my home state," said Pappanastos, who was a member of the same 2012 recruiting class as former Alabama kicker Adam Griffith, whose eligibility ended last season. "It was always kind of a dream to be playing here, and once that kind of (became an option), it was a no-brainer."

Playfully nicknamed "Papa Nasty" by Alabama strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran, among other variations he's heard in his career, Pappanastos leads the SEC in average field goals per game (2) and average kick scoring (10.8 points per game).

"I think he's done a really good job for us all year," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "He's been really consistent the last couple of games."

Consistency has been the key, with Pappanastos connecting on six consecutive field-goal attempts after some opening-game struggles from distance.

That string included kicks of 43 and 46 yards against Colorado State two weeks after missing from 42 and 41 yards in the opener against Florida State.

Pappanastos credits a recent conversation he had with former Alabama golfer and current PGA professional Justin Thomas, who won the FedEx Cup Championship last weekend, with the turnaround in his game.

"I've talked with him several times, just kind of picking his brain about the mental aspect of (kicking/swinging a golf club)," Pappanastos said. "Since I've talked to him, I haven't missed."

It's quite the shift from this spring, when Pappanastos missed both his field-goal attempts -- from 31 and 38 yards -- in the A-Day Spring game April 22.

"With the A-Day Game, I felt pretty bad. It was honestly very small, little mechanical issues that I had ... and I fixed it," Pappanastos said. "It was kind of an interesting deal, but I didn't want that feeling to happen again, so I really worked hard and put in a lot of work -- me and JK (Scott) both."

Adopting many of the pregame routines of Scott, Alabama's senior punter, Pappanastos worked throughout the summer and has become the reliable kicker the Tide needs.

"We went into this year with the idea of leaving no stone (go) unturned, so we really just hit it as hard as we could," Pappanastos said.

Including reaching out to a professional golfer on handling the mental rigors of swinging a golf club -- or in his case, kicking -- on such a big stage as Alabama.

"He's really been over-the-top helpful," Pappanastos said of Thomas. "I was talking to him on the phone for 30 minutes and literally just jotting down notes. He just talked about how your mentality needs to be on the sidelines. You want to have the opportunity to kick it, and I've really been able to implement that. And the results have been pretty good so far -- I owe him a lot for that."