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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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‘Punter from Down Under’

Photo by Courtesy of Craig Bisacre/Texas A&M Athletics

After averaging a total of 45.5 yards per punt in the Saturday, Sept. 18 game against the University of New Mexico, sophomore Nik Constantinou has earned the title of SEC Punter of the Week. 

In life, the greatest changes are often the most rewarding.
This sentiment could not be more applicable for sophomore Nik Constantinou. Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, the punter has seen his recent years characterized by immense development, including an international relocation, a change in career path and a separation from everything he had previously known. This rapid evolution of Constantinou’s life did little to scare him, instead pushing him to become an influential member of the No. 7 Texas A&M football team.
The American dream
As a proud Australian, Constantinou said he never expected to pursue a professional career in American football.
“The only NFL game I would watch back home was the Super Bowl, and I still didn’t understand what was going on in that game,” Constantinou said. “I knew nothing about the sport, so for me, it was mainly coming, learning everything about [American football] and getting acclimated to what I have to get used to.”
Prokick Australia was founded in 2007 to “help guide and transition Australian athletes to perform at the College/NFL level,” according to its website. Since then, the organization has produced 75 U.S. collegiate scholarship contracts, five Ray Guy Award recipients, 17 All-Americans, 40 bowl victors and one national championship winner.
When a friend recommended Constantinou try out for the program, the then-Australian rules football player wasn’t sure what to expect, but he eventually decided to “give it a chance.”
“Through assessments, they said, ‘You should [punt in America],’” Constantinou said. “I knew nothing [about football] — when I say nothing, I had no idea — but I’m like, ‘I’ve got nothing to lose.’ Long story short, through a few FaceTime calls and sending film over, I ended up catching up with A&M.”
After meeting head coach Jimbo Fisher — a man the athlete had never heard of before visiting A&M — Constantinou became an official member of the maroon and white squad.
Before he could play American football, however, he had to learn the rules and gameplay styles associated with it. The typical “rollout-type kicking” to which Constantinou was accustomed would no longer do, instead forcing him to adopt what the punter called a “two-step, three-step, kick and release” technique. Though this adjustment was difficult, Constantinou said focusing on small corrections allowed him to make great leaps toward becoming a true punter.
“You just have to put it back to basics,” Constantinou said. “At the end of the day, my role is to catch … and kick the ball with the end goal of changing and flipping the field. When I keep it simplistic like that, [my lack of experience] doesn’t make too much of a difference for me.”
Surpassing program expectations
As of presstime, the ‘Punter from Down Under’ has punted 49 times with an average of 42.7 yards per attempt. His career-long of 65 yards came against the Colorado Buffaloes on Sept. 11, 2021, just one week before his “breakout performance” against New Mexico. In the matchup with the Lobos, all of Constantinou’s punts were killed within the 20-yard line, earning him SEC accolades for the week.
Fisher said he is thankful to have an athlete of Constantinou’s caliber in his corner, saying he praises the punter’s successes while pushing him to “go further.”
“On special teams, Nik is outstanding,” Fisher said. “With all of his punts within the 20, he’s doing a really nice job kicking the ball. And believe it or not, I think he can even play better.”
To garner this type of praise as a special teams player is no small feat. A&M, referred to by many as “Punter U,” boasts one of the most prolific special teams portfolios in collegiate football history. Constantinou spent his freshman year under the tutelage of then-starting punter Braden Mann, an eventual Ray Guy Award winner and NFL draftee. Before Mann came the likes of Justin Brantly, with a program-high of 9,010 yards punted, and Steve O’Neal, who was drafted by the New York Jets 51 years before Mann landed with the same team.
Regardless of his predecessors’ success, Constantinou said he is not intimidated. Instead, he said he uses the experiences of past punters to further learn and develop as a player.
“With Braden Mann specifically, it wasn’t so much about punting that I tried to pick his brain about,” Constantinou said. “It was more so how he presented himself each and every day. That was massive for me to sit back and watch how he does that and how much of a professional he is at the game. That’s a standard that I want to reach and go higher.”
Mann’s departure from the program threatened A&M’s downfall in the kicking department, as many were left wondering who could replace arguably one of the greatest punters in school history.
For senior Leon O’Neal, however, there was never any doubt. The defensive back said he and the rest of the team remained confident in Constantinou’s ability to fill Mann’s shoes. Now, O’Neal said he couldn’t be more happy with what the Melbourne native accomplishes for A&M on a weekly basis.
“It feels good knowing that [opposing offenses] have to get a lot of yards to get into the endzone,” O’Neal said. “We try to leave people with a zero on the score total. We don’t want nobody to score, so when they’re way back there [in their own backfield], it’s rhythmically beautiful. I appreciate Nik giving us good field position to play defense.”
The road to success runs uphill
Constantinou’s climb to the top was not without its hardships. The punter said he often struggles with loneliness and separation from loved ones, especially when considering the 8,995 miles between them.
“With the [COVID-19] lockdowns, my family and friends can’t come over [to America], so it’s been hard,” Constantinou said. “As soon as restrictions ease up, they’ll be straight over to see what [A&M] is all about.”
In perhaps a godsend to help ease the distance from home, Constantinou was joined by another Australian on the team — sophomore Jordan Spasojevic-Moko. With the offensive lineman’s addition to the roster in February of 2021, Constantinou was no longer completely cut off from the country in which he was raised.
But the two Australians are not supported solely by each other. In addition to the 100,000-plus fans seen on a typical Saturday at Kyle Field, Constantinou is backed by a community which fully supports him in all aspects of his life. Claiming to have “never seen anything like it” in Australia, Constantinou said the Aggie Network has far surpassed his expectations of what it means to be an Aggie.
“I have not met one bad person in Texas, College Station or A&M,” Constantinou said. “It’s amazing that we have so many individuals that care for us, love for us and have invested their lives into what we do as players, athletes and even students.”
Off the field
Constantinou’s support from others is not unwarranted. His Twitter account, used primarily for interactions with A&M football and the Bryan-College Station community, has also acted as a platform for the punter’s worldviews, including support for Australian environmentalism, multi-language education and more sustainable economic policies.
Fisher said Constantinou’s commitment to being part of something greater than himself allows the punter to find success. Constantinou’s athletic abilities would not translate onto the field if it weren’t for the dedication showcased elsewhere, Fisher said.
“He’s wired right, man,” Fisher said. “He does the right things for the right reasons and the team. He works his tail off. I’ll come up here [to the football complex] on an offseason day, I’ll be in the gym working out by myself, and he’ll be in there lifting. You drive by [Kyle Field] and just see balls booming up. You’ll walk into the stadium, and Nik is just standing there.
“I don’t know if he knows when I come and does it on purpose, but every time you ever walk around here, he’s a workaholic. He’s lifting, he’s running, he’s kicking. It’s something constantly developing his game, day in, day out. It’s like it’s all the time.”
However, Constantinou said these self-improvements are not made for personal gain. Instead, everything he does is for the betterment of those around him, he said. In a football program based upon the Aggie Core Value of Selfless Service, the punter embodies the program on a daily basis.
“For me, it’s performing to the best of my standards to help the team,” Constantinou said. “Hitting a very long ball is great, but the way I see it, what good is it if it gets returned 40 yards? I’ve been placing a lot of emphasis on my hangtime — as much as I can get it up there — to get minimal returns. That helps the team. I’m still learning about the game, and I’m enjoying it more and more each year.”

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