KICK­ING & SCREAM­ING

di­nos kicker NIKO DIFONTE brought back to earth quickly after epic field-goal makes him star

Calgary Sun - - SPORTS - Eric FRAN­CIS

In the hours fol­low­ing his feel-good kick of the football sea­son, the leg­end of Niko DiFonte grew ex­po­nen­tially.

Shortly after be­ing mobbed by his Univer­sity of Calgary Di­nos team­mates for nail­ing a game-end­ing 59-yard field goal Satur­day, the new record-holder for Cana­dian univer­sity football signed au­to­graphs for sev­eral kids be­fore hold­ing court with the me­dia.

While the cel­e­bra­tions con­tin­ued, video of his mag­i­cal kick cir­cu­lated across town and around the globe, pick­ing up enough likes, shares and retweets to at­tract the at­ten­tion of ESPN, which aired it on Sport­sCen­ter.

It prompted cov­er­age by USA To­day and a piece on NFL.com about the quirks of Cana­dian football, sparked by cu­rios­ity over the fact he hoofed the mirac­u­lous boot from the other side of the

“C” sig­ni­fy­ing cen­tre field of the 110-yard out­lay.

His phone re­ceived count­less texts and mes­sages and his sta­tus as Big Man on Cam­pus only be­gan to tell the tale of how pop­u­lar he sud­denly be­came.

Yet, days later, as he looks back on the eu­pho­ria that still sur­rounds his his­toric boot, the 19-year-old Win­nipeg na­tive chuck­les at how hard re­al­ity hit when he re­turned to his house.

“My room­mates made me do the dishes when

I got home, so noth­ing changed,” laughed DiFonte, who lives with a hand­ful of his grate­ful team­mates.

“I’ve got­ten a lot of me­dia at­ten­tion, but re­ally, I’m still a kicker. My phone, Twit­ter, In­sta­gram, Face­book — ev­ery­thing — blew up. It was re­ally cool. But it’s not go­ing to last for­ever. They’ll for­get about it by next week.”

His coach will tell you it’s that type of ground­ing that en­abled him to do what no other kicker in U Sports lore has ever done be­fore. That, and the pow­er­ful right leg that sup­ports his 6-ft., 170lb. frame.

“I wouldn’t have put him out there if I didn’t think he could do it,” said Di­nos coach Wayne Har­ris Jr., whose club trailed UBC by two in the dy­ing sec­onds of the Hardy Cup matchup when he sum­moned the sec­ond-year arts stu­dent who had missed two of seven at­tempts ear­lier that game.

“I’ve been watch­ing the kid for two years now and with wind at his back he kicked a 64-yarder in prac­tice. We don’t do a lot of lon­grange kicks in prac­tice but I’ve seen him kick out­side of 50 yards and have five to 10 yards ex­tra.

“He had three sin­gles on kick­offs he kicked through the end­zone dur­ing the game. He had a 75-yard punt in the game and I knew his leg was go­ing well. Even com­ing out of high school we said he had a CFL leg. It’s just a mat­ter of calm­ing the nerves and he proved he could do that.”

On Satur­day, he might have cleared the up­rights by a foot, send­ing the sparse crowd into a frenzy no one there will ever for­get. It gave the Di­nos the Canada West crown with a 44-43 win, set­ting up a re­match of last year’s Vanier Cup, won by Laval — a long­time neme­sis stand­ing in the way of nu­mer­ous na­tional ti­tles.

Thanks to DiFonte’s hero­ics, they’ll get an­other crack Satur­day at McMa­hon Sta­dium, with a berth in this year’s na­tional ti­tle game on the line.

“I’m just happy to give my fifth years an­other week to play football,” beamed DiFonte, who said his mind­set be­fore the kick was sim­ple.

“I re­ally had noth­ing to lose. I thought, ‘just put my foot through it’ and it came off my foot nicely. After I kicked it I just prayed.”

What’s so shock­ing about the record is that he set it this late in the sea­son, when the weather and the pres­sure of the mo­ment surely con­spired against him. He in­sists it was a “per­fect day for football” with tem­per­a­tures above zero and no wind.

He claims, “I wouldn’t have liked my chances a week ear­lier” when it was much colder. Yet, it was in that cold he went six of seven, ac­count­ing for 21 of Calgary’s 39 points, which in­cluded a 45-yarder.

The kid is a star

My phone, Twit­ter, In­sta­gram, Face­book — ev­ery­thing — blew up. It was re­ally cool. But it’s not go­ing to last for­ever. They’ll for­get about it by next week.” di­nos K Niko DiFonte

in the mak­ing.

Har­ris Jr. and DiFonte are both quick to praise the work for­mer Stamps kicker, J.T.

Hay, and for­mer Mon­treal Alou­ettes kicker Don Sweet have done to help coach the young­ster, who led the con­fer­ence in scor­ing this sea­son.

Like any good kicker he’s also quick to praise the snap of Jack­son Pen­ner and the hold by Hunter Karl that set the stage for his vi­ral video.

“I’m just happy I got on ESPN — that’s ev­ery­one’s dream,” said DiFonte, who was also jazzed about his kick ap­pear­ing on Sun­day’s CFL tele­cast.

“Hope­fully (the CFL) is the next step for me, so that re­ally meant a lot to me.”

So would a win over the mighty Rouge et Or.

“It’s a great op­po­nent,” said DiFonte.

“Hope­fully this year will be dif­fer­ent. It’ll be a hell of game. For sure this week I’ve got to go 100 per cent.”

Ei­ther way, you can bet he’ll be back on dish duty soon there­after.

GAVIN YOUNG/POSTMEDIA

The Calgary Di­nos cel­e­brate win­ning the Hardy Cup over the UBC Thun­der­birds this past Satur­day.

GAVIN YOUNG/POSTMEDIA

Di­nos kicker Niko DiFonte cel­e­brates his game-win­ning 59-yard field goal after Satur­day’s Hardy Cup win over the UBC T-birds.

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