Saturday, August 22, 2015


Bullard High School (Fresno) center Connor Vikupitz went from being labeled as a Division III or DII college football player to verbally accepting a full ride opportunity from the Air Force Academy on Aug. 15. Vikupitz is among four incoming seniors on the Knights' roster who have received NCAA DI interest (photo contributed). 
Once the college football recruiting process kicked off for Connor Vikupitz, the Bullard High School (Fresno) Class of 2016 center was originally told that he would be no better than a NCAA Division II football player.

However, the spring evaluation period and the summer camp season changed the attitudes of the people who gave him that critique.

Vikupitz - through work ethic, a 4.3 grade point average and a hunger to become better than yesterday – became a person of interest for numerous NCAA DI schools during the offseason and now, the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder is Air Force Academy bound after he turns in his Bullard uniform.

His Aug. 15 verbal commitment to the prestigious Mountain West Conference service academy added him to Bullard’s inflating list of DI prospects. Along with Vikupitz, running back Charles Williams, tight end/defensive end Cvaughn Stewart and safety Nick Cole have gotten college coaches scrutinizing them closely.

Most high school football players get emotionally psyched when someone tells them they’re not good enough for the DI level. Some will etch that motivation in writing and paste the paper on their locker room wall, or remember what was said and leave it embedded in their mind before taking the field.

But not Vikupitz. He calmly went about his business with the hope one university would give him a chance.

“Motivation wise, I was just trying my best to impress whoever I could no matter what division,” Vikupitz said. “At camps over the summer, no matter what school was watching, I knew I had to make an impression.”

Vikupitz said that his size caused people around him to believe that his collegiate career was going to be played outside of the Football Bowl Subdivision circle. But he hides his size flaw with his mean streak.

It’s No. 71 who’s the first to get unleashed on defensive linemen like a wild tiger charging into a coliseum. Vikupitz fastens his palms inside a defenders’ chest and drills him to the grass.

The Knights, who have legendary Central Section head coach Don Arax roaming the sidelines, have always preferred to take the ground-and-pound approach; lining up in a variety of double tight end and power formations to take the oxygen away from defenses. Most BHS running plays smash through the middle of the field – the area where Vikupitz sets up his blocks.

While the BHS linemen plow the roads for Williams, the trench warriors don’t command the spotlight compared to the running backs. Knight backfield stars have not only left a revered legacy at the North Palm Avenue campus, but they’re usually the recipient of newspaper honors and scholarship offers from PAC-12, Mountain West and Big Sky universities. Vikupitz wants the guys up front to get similar recognition.

“I believe behind every great running back is a great line,” Vikupitz said. “I’m sure even the best running backs would have a difficult time running against 11 other defenders.”

Vikupitz prepares to snap the ball and unleash a trench fury for the Knights. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Vikupitz is the Knights' go-to-guy for a run block (photo contributed). 

He knows that the expectations at BHS are through the ceiling. Most followers of the Central Section football scene have penciled the Knights as one of the top 10 teams in the area. Bullard is also searching for its first section championship since 2009, when that Knight team finished a flawless 13-0.

“Bullard is definitely one of the toughest programs around,” Vikupitz said. “The coaches will push you to your limits everyday both in the weight room and at practice. We train in order to out-hustle our opponents and I believe the coaching staff does a great job of preparing us.”

Even though Vikupitz sets the tone with his nasty demeanor, he doesn’t come off as a rabid, loquacious player who tries to get under his opponents’ skin with words. He prefers to be even keeled.

“I try my best to keep my cool in order to be mentally prepared,” Vikupitz said. “Offensive line is a lot more technical than what people think and getting to the point where I can't concentrate would definitely hurt me in games.”

One way Vikupitz stays mentally sharp is by watching his favorite player on his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers: perennial Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey. Vikupitz adds that he’ll dust off old Bullard film and watch highlights of past BHS linemen greats like Chris Chavez, who coached him last year.

Vikupitz doesn’t just take on blocking challenges. He embraces academic ones too. Football wasn’t the only thing that drew Vikupitz into the Air Force Academy. The strict academic culture was another deciding factor.

“The place just spoke to me. I was always interested in an academy. I knew regular college wasn't right for me and I wouldn't function too well at a typical University,” Vikupitz said. “I feel this way because I am more of a structured person. I like to be busy and I think the structured system of an academy is something I will enjoy unlike most other people. I wouldn't know what to do with so much free time.  I also did want a school that was very prestigious in its academics.”

He comes from a military family, which he said was another reason why he committed early to Air Force.

“My mother's uncle was an Air Force pilot and other distant relatives have been in the military, but none in my immediate family. Their input on the idea of me attending an academy definitely swayed my decision,” Vikupitz said.

He credits his parents, coaches and friends for assisting him in his recruiting process, regardless if any of them said that he wasn’t DI material.

He’s overcome his lack of size with his verbal pledge to the Falcons. Now comes his next obstacle: helping Bullard add another section football crown.

“I may not show it much, but I do have a very competitive side to me. This drives me along with just representing the school and our tradition,” Vikupitz said. “Arax talks a lot about the great teams he's had and I've always wanted to be a part of one of the great teams he talks about in the future, and one that will go down in Bullard football lore. Yes we’ve had some bumps, but we’ve gotten through them with great leadership and help from the coaching staff. 

"Towards the end of the season everyone gets tired and that's what our downfall was last year," Vikupitz continued. "Staying focused and strong throughout the entire season, including the postseason, is how we'll win the title.”

No comments:

Post a Comment