NORTHWESTERN KICKER STEFAN DEMOS COULD NOT HAVE ASKED FOR A MUCH better 2009. The Lou Groza Award semifinalist kicked a game-winning 49-yard field goal against Eastern Michigan in the second game of the season, hit a 47-yarder to help seal a 17-10 upset of then-seventh-ranked Iowa on Nov. 7 and made all four attempts in the Wildcats' 33-31 win over No. 16 Wisconsin in their regular-season finale. As for 2010, Demos could use a fresh start.
With a chance to beat Auburn and end his school's 61-year bowl-victory drought in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl, Demos hooked a 44-yard field goal attempt to the right with no time remaining, sending the game to overtime. Adding injury to insult he suffered a sprained ankle when Tigers safety T'Sharvan Bell roughed the kicker on Demos's next attempt. With Demos out, coach Pat Fitzgerald opted for a trick play on the Wildcats' next fourth down. It failed, sealing a 38-35 defeat. Demos's injury—which took three months to heal—elicited little sympathy from crushed Northwestern fans, some of whom sent him critical e-mails and Facebook messages. "A lot of fans were probably glad it happened," says the Scottsdale, Ariz., native jokingly.
That backlash notwithstanding, the fifth-year senior has commanded fan support since nearly the time he arrived. At a booster event announcing Northwestern's '06 signing class Demos's name drew the biggest applause, due largely to the Wildcats' special teams struggles the previous two seasons, and now it's not uncommon to see students wearing his jersey on game days.
A former soccer player whose father, Harry, and brother, Jordan, both played that sport in college, Demos stunned his family when, as a high school junior, he quit his club soccer team shortly before the state playoffs to concentrate on earning a football scholarship. It paid off when he excelled at a Las Vegas kicking combine that summer, eliciting interest from schools around the country. After serving as Northwestern's punter and kickoff specialist his first two seasons in Evanston, Demos added field goal duties last year. He made 14 of his first 16 attempts (the two misses were blocked) and proved invaluable for a team that earned all five of its Big Ten victories by a touchdown or less. "I kind of found my groove a little bit early on," he says. "I didn't feel the nerves anymore."
Demos swears he wasn't nervous before his ill-fated kick against Missouri, either ("I treated it like every other kick," he said), but it instantly became one of the dubious moments in Northwestern history. "I'm very glad I have another year left," says Demos. "If that had been the last game of my career, it would have been pretty painful." He began rallying almost immediately, especially when several graduating teammates sought him out in the X-ray room afterward to give him a hug. He apologized to them, and on the team's return flight to Chicago he cheered up while playing cards with Fitzgerald's three-year-old son, Ryan. Now Demos eagerly awaits a chance for another defining kick. "I would love to be the one to kick the field goal to break the [bowl] streak," he says. "It would be easy to shy away from it after the Outback Bowl, but I can't wait for another chance."