Last year, Steve Aponavicius – a freshman at Boston College on his first day of classes – entered an empty Alumni Stadium to see if he was any good at kicking field goals. The left-footed, long-ball specialist (on the soccer pitch) was just messing around out there, hoping no one with any authority to kick him off would notice. After kicking ball after ball through the uprights, Aponavicius was approached by someone who he thought was going to tell him to scram. But, in fact, what happened was quite the opposite.
"Coach [Jay] Civetti was walking out here," Aponavicius recalled while standing on the same field on Tuesday, referring to the offensive graduate assistant for the football team, "and he saw me and I thought he was kicking me off the field. And he came to say ‘We're kind of low on kickers, we could use an extra one. Are you interested?' I said, ‘Absolutely.' A week and a half later I was on the team."
"It was like something out of a story," Aponavicius said, but he had no idea back then how the story would progress thirteen months down the line. When he first joined the Eagles, Aponavicius had no real chance of ever kicking in an actual game. Ryan Ohliger was on scholarship to kick and was a year older. Even when Ohliger struggled last season and BC needed a temporary replacement, the coaches went with another walk-on – senior William Troost - instead of Aponavicius.
But this season, Aponavicius' sophomore campaign, he was the lone backup to the junior Ohliger. Ohliger's struggles continued: Four of his first 11 field goal attempts missed and he failed to covert another three extra points. Still, the team was not ready to hand over such an important responsibility to someone who had never in his life kicked in a real game. It would take more than just inaccuracy for head coach Tom O'Brien to yank Ohliger. And last week, it happened.
O'Brien and the team suspended Ohliger after he "violated team rules," which BC students – and later the local and even national media – knew was because of a fight Ohliger was involved in outside of a Brighton bar. Just like that, Aponavicius was no longer a backup – or just another walk-on or a "Valuable member of the scout team," as the media guide often describes the benchwarmers – he was the starting kicker for the 25th-best college football team in the nation.
He suddenly mattered now, even though almost no one – not even his coach – knew how to pronounce his name.
"Ah-pon-AH-va-chis," he deliberately stated for curious reporters before practice Tuesday. "It's Lithuanian…[I've gotten] all kinds of things. My nickname is Sid Vicious on the team."
It's all been a circus for Sid Vicious, who excitedly called his parents after he was told he would be starting on Thursday night and convinced them to take off work to come up for the game. With half-a-dozen cameras in his face and local television personalities asking him one question after another, Aponavicius couldn't hold back a huge smile – he was almost laughing with joy – as he tried to express what this experience means to him.
"Just to be on the team was amazing, coming from where I did" he said. "It's a dream come true. I think it will be great. I'm just so excited for it, I just can't wait. I know a lot of people will be watching and a lot of people will be cheering for me. It's a very nice feeling knowing so many people are behind me."
All rock-star nicknames and media circuses aside, Aponavicius will need to get serious when Virginia Tech comes to town. If the Eagles want a shot at winning, they will need to take advantage of every opportunity to score. The visiting Hokies are the best team in the ACC when it comes to allowing points (just 12.2 a game) and allowing opponents to convert on third downs (just 29% of the time). They're second in the conference in red zone defense, having let their opponent reach the end zone only five times from within the 20. When you add it all up, you can assume that the Eagles' offense – if they reach V. Tech territory, will be forced to surrender several times and the kicker, Aponavicius, will be called upon to salvage the drive with a field goal. In what will likely be a closely contested battle, three points one way or the other could make or break the game.
"We're going to kick him," O'Brien said in response to a question of whether or not Aponavicius' inexperience will change his decision-making. "That's what he has practiced for and like anybody else. So, he's going to step up and hit it, it will go right through the uprights, you wait and see."
Confidence – from his coach, from his teammates, from himself – could go a long way Thursday for Aponavicius, who will likely be riding on all kinds of emotions when game time is finally upon him. If he finds himself in such a position – and it's likely he will – a successful kick in a clutch moment could be the next chapter in the Sid Vicious Story.
And what a story it would be.