TUSCALOOSA — It happened first on a high school football field, when Andy Pappanastos spied ball carriers as a safety on the Trinity Presbyterian High defense.
“It was an away game,” Pappanastos said Tuesday. “It got to the point ... they were butchering (my name) so bad that he just ended up saying, 'Tackle by the kicker.’”
Soon he arrived to Tuscaloosa, fulfilling his dream of playing at the school he idolized as a child. The pronunciation problem persisted.
“I always pronounced it wrong,” Crimson Tide punter JK Scott said. “It’s Papa-nast-os. I thought it was POP-anastos.”
Alabama’s outspoken strength coach quickly solved his team’s tongue-twisting.
“Coach (Scott) Cochran calls him Papa Nasty,” Scott said.
So it was and now still is.
A man teammates and coaches call “Papa Nasty” has solved one of the Crimson Tide’s most pressing preseason problems at place-kicker, the end of a winding five-year career that began at Ole Miss — the team he will kick against Saturday night inside the stadium in which he grew up watching the Tide.
Pappanastos’ brother and father attended Alabama. His family has season tickets in Section L of Bryant-Denny Stadium, behind the Crimson Tide sideline right on the 10-yard-line.
Pappanastos, a graduate transfer, came to Alabama in 2016 as a preferred walk-on and is in his last year of eligibility.
“The opportunity to come here just kind of came up, and it was something that I couldn't really turn away,” he said.
Fulfilling it took time. All 5-foot-11, 193 pounds of him, Pappanastos is quick to call himself an athlete. He “loved” playing safety. He played basketball as a youngster and soccer in high school, realizing more and more that kicking would be a full-time calling.
Pappanastos made 48 field goals in high school, breaking an Alabama state record set by former Crimson Tide kicker Philip Doyle.
Pappanastos “looked at” attending Alabama when his high school career closed, but the Crimson Tide offered a scholarship to Adam Griffith — the No. 2 kicker in the country that season — early in the recruiting process.
“So, I was like, 'Well that's kind of out of the equation now,’” Pappanastos said. “Ole Miss came up and I really loved it there. The campus is great, and the school was a really good fit for me as well. It worked out really well."
Pappanastos reflects fondly on his three seasons in Oxford, where he made eight extra points as a backup to Gary Wunderlich.
He, Wunderlich and punter Will Gleeson talk “almost weekly.” Pappanastos said he’s still close with “five or 10” of his former Rebels teammates, who now play for an interim head coach, are under a self-imposed bowl ban, and face more uncertainty as they await the results of their hearing in front of the Committee on Infractions earlier this month.
“From a distance, I really feel bad for some of the players,” Pappanastos said. “A lot of that was kind of out of their control. But that’s a program that’s going to compete. They don’t really care that they have a bowl ban. They’re going to try to make things interesting in the SEC every year.”
The competition to win a starting job consumed Pappanastos throughout preseason camp, ensuring he kept his distance from the events in Oxford.
Pappanastos beat out true freshman Joseph Bulovas and, since an inconsistent start, has blossomed.
After missing two field goals in the season opener against Florida State, Pappanastos has made six in a row, including a career-high 46-yarder against Colorado State. He’s tied with two other kickers atop the conference leaderboard with eight field goals.
“He’s done a good job,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said last week. “He’s especially done a good job in the area inside the 42-yard line — 42-yard field goals is kind of what our expectation is from him. So I think he’s done a really good job so far.”
It’ll have to continue against his former team, looking across the field at his close friends, with his family watching in the stadium where his love of Alabama grew as a child.
“It was always kind of a dream to be playing here,” Pappanastos said, “and once that kind of came up it was a no-brainer."