- Last Updated: 5:06 AM, February 6, 2012
- Posted: 2:17 AM, February 2, 2012
It wasn’t too long ago that Przemyslaw Popek didn’t know what American football was. A soccer player growing up, the first game the Stepinac senior watched was Super Bowl XL between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks.
“I never thought about playing it," he said.
Popek and is parents immigrated from Poland 12 years ago. They were a soccer family and Popek played stopper for the White Plains school for 2-1/2 seasons. That was until some of his friends on the football team saw him booming kicks on the field in the back of the school midway through their season a year ago.
“I was like, ‘Dude you should play football,’” center Jesse Gwin said. “He came and he showed coach [Mike O’Donnell] and he just gave him a helmet and pads right away.”
After helping to lead the Crusaders to their first ever CHSFL Class AAA title game appearance, Popek will suit up to kick for Stony Brook next year after signing his National Letter of Intent at the school Wednesday. A kicker from the New York City area playing at the Division I level is a rarity.
The Seawolves, the defending Big South champion, took interest in him at the CHSFL Senior Bowl. Along with the the school's fine academics, his was draw was its excellent physical therapy program. Popek shared the day with teammates Jesse Gwin (C.W. Post) and Austin Taps (UPenn).
“I signed my life off today,” joked Popek, who also had interest from UConn, Marist and Lafayette. “It’s a good feeling though.”
O’Donnell said he was skeptical when Popek popped into his office asking to kick. The Crusaders already had a kicker in Shane Hogan who was 29-of-29 on extra points. He figured he would give him a shot. As a junior, Popek ended up kicking off and this season he added kicking field goals and extra points to his repertoire.
“He went outside and he started kicking the ball and I was like, ‘Oh my God,’" O'Donnell said. "This kid has unbelievable leg strength and he doesn’t even know what he is doing and he is kicking the ball out of sight.”
Added Tapps: “You just heard it off his foot, ‘boom, boom.’ We are looking over and he is kicking 50-yard field goals.”
Popek gave the Crusaders an invaluable weapon. The majority of his kickoffs were out of the end zone, leaving opponents to start at the 20. O’Donnell called it a deflating thing especially after a Stepinac score. His longest field goal he hit in practice was 60 yards. He averaged 34 yards per punt and 25 of his kickoff went for touchbacks. Popek made 34 extra points and kicked four field goals with a long of 50 yards.
“In the beginning I just kicked it,” Popek said. “When I learned the technique it got easier.”
His parents had never watched a football game until he started playing. When Popek began they didn’t know the rules and didn’t understand how well he was playing. The reaction of those around them told them all they needed to know.
“After the second game a lot of people say, ‘Hey Greg, you got an unbelievable son, unbelievably powerful,’” his father said.
Popek has now ridden that leg to a spot on a college team and possibly more if you ask his coach.
“You saw him progressing into something like, ‘Wow, maybe this guy can kick on Sundays,'” Donnell said. “If he really works at it, I think he has that kind of ability.”Follow @NYPostsports