By MIKE BROHARD
FORT COLLINS — Every college athlete has bad days on the field. The times when that little something is off, the act doesn’t feel as natural or the final product isn’t the desired result.
It can happen in games, and it certainly occurs in practice. Even those coming in the spring, and Colorado State punter Pete Kontodiakos was not happy with the first impression he gave Jim McElwain and the new staff.
“You know what? I wasn’t either,” McElwain said. “So that’s two of us.”
While coaching can certainly help, so can the advice of somebody who knows you best. That can be the case even if that person isn’t standing right next to you watching every nuance. Just the right description can lead them to the answer, and for Kontodiakos, that person is his father, John.
It was John, who punted and played safety at the University of Miami, who was Pete’s first coach. It started innocently enough, when one day John was coaching his other two sons in youth football when he noticed the whole team wasn’t paying attention. They were all watching “little Pete” boot a football over a baseball backstop. At the age of 6.
When John first asked his youngest what he was doing, Pete thought he was in trouble. It was the opposite, so John dared him to do it again. And Pete did. Then John moved his son back to the pitching mound, and after a couple of tries, he cleared the backstop again.
From that, a punter was born, somewhat reluctantly. It started with just crossing the street to the soccer field and kicking the ball back in forth. As Pete grew, he also became a pretty good quarterback and didn’t really want to punt. Eventually, dad talked him into the fact it was his ticket to college.
Over the years, the father-son and coach-student bond has grown into a very special connection.
“It really is. I can come out here, have a good day, but on the bad days, it’s really beneficial,” Pete said. “Even though he’s not here visually, I can tell him what the ball’s doing, and he’ll tell me what the problem is.”
There haven’t been many this fall. Pete averaged 51.3 yards per kick in the last scrimmage, more in line with what he’s done throughout his college career. He came to CSU as a USA Today All-American and averaged 40.9 yards as a freshman, numbers which have grown to 43.7 and 43.6 the past two seasons. He’s had 46 attempts of 50 yards or longer and pinned 42 inside the 20. His hang time, which is improving, has led to 29 fair catches.
Named second-team All-Mountain West last year, he was the preseason pick as the top punter in the conference and was named to Ray Guy Watch List.
His career numbers put him at fourth all-time at the school with a 42.8-yard average (and he sits sixth and eighth on the single-season list), but he’s far from satisfied with his performance.
“Each year, you want to get better, improve your average and what you can do for the team,” Pete said. “I’m definitely trying to get better this year. It’s my last year, and I’m trying to help my team get to a bowl game.”
His average isn’t his primary concern, but rather his net average, which stood at a career best 38.7 in 2011. He knows he has a stronger leg and credits the new strength and conditioning staff for their focus on hip strength and flexibility. The one thing he knows for sure is he’s not the same guy who showed up on campus from Florida.
“You know, I’m really relaxed out there now,” Pete said. “My first practice out here, I can remember it. My heart was beating real quick, butterflies, trying to impress coaches. Now I know I have the ability to punt at this level, so it’s just about going out and performing consistently.”
That’s what McElwain has noticed most since the spring, adding he feels Pete is doing a better job mentally of letting one shank not ruin his day or the following kick. And for a coach who speaks often of the hidden yardage in special teams, he knows Pete can be a weapon for the Rams.
“His consistency … he’s one of those guys, hey look, if you hit a bad shot in golf, you can’t dwell on it,” McElwain said. “You’ve just got to come back and hit another one. He let it affect him. I think he’s figured out how to kind of drop the bad stuff and let’s get the good Karma going.”
But should something not feel right, John is always a phone call away. They happen daily, and John admits he sometimes gets impatient and calls early. Maybe the ball doesn’t feel right coming off the foot, or maybe it’s not rotating in the right way. Whatever it is, John will know.
“You punt at this level, it’s not really much more teaching, it’s about critiquing, if that makes sense,” Pete explained. “He’s usually going to break me down, your swinging over too much, not coming through the ball enough. It’s stuff like that’s very beneficial, to have him.”
And on game days, all he has to do is look up in the stands. It means a lot to Pete that his parents have been to every one of his college games (his mom, Argie, travels, too), minus the trip to Idaho a few years ago. However, it probably means more to John.
Growing up, he wasn’t supposed to play football. His dad, Mike, was brought to the States from Greece (the family is from the island of Kalymnos) to sponge dive, and didn’t want his son to play football. John did, and was good at it, but his father never once saw him play.
It took one trip out, for Pete’s first game, to seal the deal.
“After the CU game and when I saw the expression on his face, I made up my mind I was going to be coming out here,” John said.
It’s not always easy, but John and Argie plan on making every game this season. And when it’s done, he also knows he’ll miss it greatly.
“Financially, I really can’t wait until this is over,” John said. “Then again, I know I’m going to go nuts because I’m going to miss it so much. It’s almost like a Catch-22.”
For his last season, Pete isn’t worried about awards or numbers so much, but he would like to give his father one more trip to remember.
“I honestly just want to help this team as much as I can, because we as a team want to win,” Pete said. “We’re itching for a bowl game, and that’s what’s most important right now.”
Mike Brohard can be reached at 635-3633, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mbrohard