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Danny Vuckovic’s 52-yard game-winner only part of success story

Danny Vuckovic’s 52-yard game-winner only part of success story
Danny Vuckovic continues to showcase his big leg every time he takes the field for Lake Zurich. (Photo: Rich Cillessen)

LAKE ZURICH, Ill. (BVM) – Throughout the fall, it’s seen nearly every week. In a tie game, a team drives to get themselves into field goal range, putting them in position for the winning score. The kicker trots out onto the field to attempt the winning kick, with the weight of the world on their shoulders.

It’s not an easy situation, but Lake Zurich kicker Danny Vuckovic relishes those kinds of moments.

“I think it’s just preparing myself mentally to go on the field and not being afraid to make mistakes,” Vuckovic said about his mindset. “I go into the kicks confident each time … You just have to take it one kick at a time. You miss some, you make some. When I miss one, you can’t get that kick back, so you just have to move on to the next one.”

Recently, Vuckovic found himself in that very scenario. In an early-season game against rival Stevenson, Lake Zurich found itself down 10-0 at halftime. However, that’s when the Bears realized they needed to rally.

“We all just came together and said, ‘This is our senior year, we’re not going to go out like this against our rivals at home,’” Vuckovic said. “We came out firing in the second half. The defense was great, the offense was great.”

Danny Vuckovic Lake Zurich High School football kicker
Danny Vuckovic’s 52-yard game-winning field goal against Stevenson was his career long to this point. (Photo: Rich Cillessen)

In the third quarter, Vuckovic made a 43-yard field goal to make the score 10-3. With the Lake Zurich defense continuing to get stops, the offense finally did its part, scoring a touchdown to make it a 10-9 game, with Vuckovic coming on for the extra point.

“I think I was more nervous for that extra point than a game-winning kick,” Vuckovic said.

As he usually does, the Lake Zurich senior drilled the extra point to tie the game up. As the Bears got the ball back, they drove to the outer edge of field goal range. Tied at 10, Vuckovic came on for what would be a career-long 52-yard attempt.

“My coach asked me where I felt comfortable, and there was a little breeze at the time, so I was saying 50 was probably my max with the breeze,” Vuckovic said. “It ended up being a 52-yard field goal.”

The extra couple of yards didn’t matter. Vuckovic nailed the kick, creating a football memory that will last a lifetime.

“I nailed it with a couple of extra yards to spare,” Vuckovic said. “It was a surreal moment. It was just crazy to see everyone in the student section and the crowd going crazy. It’s a dream to do that as a kicker, a game-winning field goal, 50-plus yards … That was probably the best feeling I’ve ever had.”

Perhaps making the feeling even better after the fact is that the Lake Zurich senior was recognized by his favorite team as he was named the Chicago Bears High School All-Star for that week. As a result, the Bears made a $500 donation to the program of Vuckovic’s choosing, which was the Lake Zurich youth program.

“I didn’t think the Bears would even see that kick at all,” Vuckovic said. “That was definitely crazy, growing up a Bears fan and having them recognize you.”

The game-winner is one of several field goals Vuckovic has put on the board for Lake Zurich this year. He also continues to prove just how powerful his leg is, whether it was the 52-yard field goal in the Stevenson game, a 48-yard kick he nailed a couple of weeks ago, or a 68-yard punt that he showcased early in the season.

Yet, up until the last few years, it never seemed that any of this would happen. Like many kickers in the sport, Vuckovic played soccer growing up. He was persuaded by friends to try out for football by the time he reached high school, and was prepared to play on the offensive line. However, it wasn’t long before that plan changed.

“At that time I had no idea about kicking,” Vuckovic said. “I wasn’t even going to be a kicker, I was an O-lineman my freshman year. The first week of the season, we didn’t have a kicker. Everyone’s like, ‘Danny can kick a ball because he used to play soccer.’ And I was like, ‘Sure, I guess I’ll give it a try.’ That’s what got me here today, just stepping up for my team at that point.”

Vuckovic emerged into the full-time kicker for his freshman team, and did not stop doing whatever his team needed while on JV as a sophomore, playing a game at linebacker that season as well. However, it was also his sophomore year where Vuckovic realized how much potential he had as a kicker.

“I was just off kicking by myself, and it was my first-ever 50-yard field goal that I made,” Vuckovic said. “I was just like, ‘You know, maybe I have a shot at doing something special with this.’ That’s the moment it clicked that I could do something with this sport.”

Danny Vuckovic Lake Zurich High School football kicker
Danny Vuckovic did not starting playing football until his freshman year of high school. (Photo: Rich Cillessen)

As he got his first opportunity on varsity last season, Vuckovic hit a 48-yard field goal, growing his confidence even further. But what he really relishes from his first varsity season is the opportunity to be part of the high school football atmosphere.

“It was just a moment where you realize you’re playing in a varsity sport in front of a live crowd, you hear the band coming out with the team,” Vuckovic said. “Even my first time walking out on the field for a home game, in front of the student section being packed, stands packed. Those are really the moments that you live for in high school.”

Making his junior season even better was the Lake Zurich kicker’s all-around performance which was recognized with being named first-team all-conference and all-area honorable mention.

“That definitely boosted my confidence,” Vuckovic mentioned. “I didn’t expect to get either of those at all … It really helped me to know that I could do something with this sport.”

In his senior year, Vuckovic has taken a more relaxed approach to his kicking, limiting any stress. It has been part of what has helped Lake Zurich to a fast start, and with a special group of guys whose ultimate goal is a state championship, they don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

“Overall, a state championship is the dream for everyone,” Vuckovic said. “But week by week, we just want to go 1-0 each week. We hope to keep that carrying on … Everyone’s looking to get better each week, the coaches are looking to get better each week, every single player on the roster is looking to get better each week. It’s really just a special team that we got here.”

No matter what happens the rest of this fall, Vuckovic will be looking to continue his football career after high school, something he never dreamed possible just a few years ago. To make his dream happen, the senior has continued training with former Northern Illinois University (NIU) kicker Chris Nendick, and has also attended Kohl’s Kicking Camps that continue to help develop his game.

“Those camps always help you,” Vuckovic said. “It’s like a reality check for everyone. You see where you’re at compared to the top-level guys and see where you are at compared to other guys who are starting to improve. Going from those camps to the season, I think that really helped me get prepared to go out there every kick and really take it a kick at a time.”

Vuckovic has already made impressive headlines that will live on at Lake Zurich, and has the potential to do the same at the next level. He’s attended camps for several Division I programs, with his most recent visit coming at NIU. A true team player, Vuckovic will look to make a decision sometime after the season, but no matter where he ends up, playing college football will be a dream come true.

Danny Vuckovic Lake Zurich High School football kicker
Danny Vuckovic hopes to be playing college football come next fall. (Photo: Rich Cillessen)

“I’d bring a team player to the program, definitely,” Vuckovic said. “At Lake Zurich, I try to help out as much as I can with anything and everything. Obviously, I’m not on the field too much, so I’ll be filling waters sometimes, helping out with seven on sevens, just overall helping the team out.

“Kicking in college would be special to me. That’s something that I never imagined the first day I stepped foot on the football field. It’s just a dream that hopefully comes true.”

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