2018 CFP CHAMPIONSHIP: Trinity alumn Pappanastos living the dream
By Tim Gayle
ATLANTA - This time a year ago, Andy Pappanastos stood on the sideline and watched Adam Griffith kick extra points and field goals. And while Pappanastos has had his share of missed field goals this season, he wouldn’t trade a minute of the 2017 season.
“I would say the biggest thing is just being able to do this,” he said. “There are so many people in this world – athletes, high school players – that would die to play college football, much less at Alabama. Much less your favorite team when you were a kid. It’s been phenomenal.
"As much as I’ve enjoyed it, my family has been so excited and enjoying every step of it. It’s been an awesome experience, something I’ll never forget.”
The former Trinity Presbyterian star had accomplished as much as any kicker in the history of Alabama high school football, breaking Philip Doyle’s heralded record of career field goals at Huffman and ranking third all-time in points by a kicker in state history with 279. His 48 career field goals were just two shy of the national record when he concluded his career in 2011.
He knew where he wanted to play collegiately. He had spent many childhood Saturdays at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“There was a picture of us before Bryant-Denny was added on,” he recalled, when asked for his first memory of attending Alabama home games. “Literally, there’s a chain-link fence behind us. We’re in the back row and I’m sitting on his (father’s) lap, my brother’s sitting on his other knee. It’s a Vanderbilt game. I actually remember being there for that.”
But his dream of kicking for Alabama was over before it started. The Crimson Tide would win a national championship that year with Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster on the roster and the nation’s top kicking recruit, Griffith, as a signee. There was no way head coach Nick Saban would put a fourth kicker on scholarship.
So Pappanastos went to Ole Miss to compete for a job. Thankfully, his parents never gave up their season tickets to Alabama home games.
“My brother was still a big Alabama fan so he and some of his buddies would always go to games if we were out of town with Ole Miss,” he said. “We’ve been season ticket holders for probably 20 years now. We’ve had so many great experiences – my dad, my brother, my mom. Just going to games in the fall as a kid, it was always a dream to be playing. Now it’s come true.”
It came true because the NCAAA passed a rule allowing players who have graduated to transfer to another program without losing a year of eligibility. Pappanastos returned to Tuscaloosa in Griffith’s senior year, then took over this year after Griffith’s graduation. Just before the season, he knew he had won the job when he was asked to change his number from 92.
“Me and (punter) JK (Scott) both changed numbers,” he said. “It’s the week before the Florida State game and I kind of had an idea that if I won the job, I was going to have to switch my number and I was really excited because I didn’t like the 90s numbers.
“So it was about a week before and they pull me into the office and they’re like, give me your top three numbers you want to switch to. I was like, ‘12,’ that’s my first option. It’s obviously a historic number at Alabama. I wanted to be a part of that, obviously.
“My family loves it, too. When I look back on this and see pictures and stuff, it’s going to be pretty neat that I’ll have the number that Joe Namath wore.”
It became a bigger deal when he actually got to meet Namath.
“I get to the stadium and I walk out onto the field and, sure enough, he’s standing right there. I have a crazy moment, like oh my goodness, and I go up and shake his hand and talk to him. He was awesome. He pointed at my number and said, ‘I like your number.’ I said, ‘I hope I wear it as well as you did.’ He thought it was really funny. But we got a picture and I sent it to my parents. They both dropped their jaw. It was awesome.”
On the field, he had a shaky moment in Mercedes-Benz Stadium against Florida State when he missed a pair of field goals, but shrugs off the miscues.
“It was a combination of a lot of things,” he said, “but that was a great game for me just because I had some failure and some success. Kind of got a taste of both and I knew what it took to get better. It helped with my confidence, moving forward. I realized if I could kick there, kicking at home (in Bryant-Denny) would be so much easier.”
Off the field, he completed his master’s degree in sports business management.
“I just finished my master’s about two weeks ago,” he said. “It’s a lot of hands-on experiences where you’re working with companies. I had an internship in Tuscaloosa that I did in the spring and that just helped me out. It’s hard to believe it’s already over.
“I think a big part of me coming to Alabama was the ability to make some connections with people. Day One, right when I got here, no one was a stranger to me. I was trying to shake so many hands to get to know as many people as I could. It’s really paid off in the end because I feel like I’ve gotten to know a lot of people just by playing here.”
Oh, and he’s had a few highlights as well. He has made every extra-point attempt this year to rank fifth in school history in single-season extra points and Pappanastos ranks seventh in single-season points by kicking.
“As far as an actual game (highlight), I would probably say the (Texas) A&M game,” he said. “That was a really cool game for me. It was a big environment. We stalled out in the second half and I had the opportunity to make a big kick which kind of clinched the game and I did. That was one of the best kicks I’ve had this year.”
And while it will never go down as a highlight, he can also claim a catch in the annual Iron Bowl. Facing fourth-and-nine at the Auburn 17 after a pass to Hale Hentges in the end zone was overturned, the Tide had a chance to cut the Auburn lead to 20-17 with a chip-shot field goal early in the fourth quarter. Instead, the ball slid through Scott’s hands and the holder rolled out under a heavy rush and threw a pass to Pappanastos, who was swarmed under for a nine-yard loss.
“Now that we’re in the playoff and I didn’t kick us out of the playoff, first off, that was a huge momentum swing in the game,” he said. “I wish it would have all worked out and we put three points on the board. But I will never in my life, as long as I live, forget catching the ball in the Iron Bowl. That was the craziest thing.
“We have a picture, him literally throwing a pass to me. It looks like it’s going to be a touchdown and I get clobbered by three guys. That was complete instinct that I ran a route. I’m supposed to block. But I’m like, if JK is rolling out, he needs somebody to throw to.”
Every event, good and bad, becomes a snapshot in time for a player living out his dream of playing for the Crimson Tide.
“This whole season has just been everything I could dream of,” he said. “Hopefully, we finish it the right way.”