Bryce Miller: For ex-San Diego State kicker Andy Trakas, pain of missed kicks shapes larger legacy

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SAN DIEGO — In Principal Andy Trakas’ office at Albert Einstein Academies, two pictures hang on a back wall. One is a shot from the 1964 classic “Zorba the Greek.” The other, an intoxicating seascape of the country’s island gem Santorini.

As a kid, Trakas washed pots and pans at Troy’s Greek Restaurant — his family’s business tucked along Mission Gorge. The son of Greek immigrants now oversees the brightly appointed charter school built from the dusty bones of the old Bay View Medical Center in Grant Hill.

Each weekday since the coronavirus health crisis shut down schools and isolated families, Trakas and colleagues have handed out free meals — 700 on Thursday alone. About half of AEA’s students qualify for free or reduced lunches, with 55.2% considered socioeconomically disadvantaged in 2018-19.

Trakas slipped on a pair of gloves Thursday, pulled a mask over his face and aided colleagues handing meals and supplies through windows as cars streamed through a roadway behind the school.

It does not matter if a family has a child at the school.

“No questions asked,” he said.

More than a quarter of a century ago, a run as a record-setting kicker at San Diego State became forever stained when Trakas missed key kicks against USC and then-No. 3 Miami — a pair of the most painful non-victories in program history.

That was the uncomfortable then. The meals, reassuring smiles and invaluable daily connections represent a far more meaningful now.

“They remember highlights and lowlights — nothing in the middle,” Trakas, 48, said of his turbulent road as a kicker. “That’s the nature of the beast. To tell you the truth, those experiences helped form the person and the man I am now.”


Viewed in macro, Trakas was one of the most productive Aztecs in history. He’s third in scoring, behind just D.J. Pumphrey and Marshall Faulk. He converted more field goals and extra points than anyone on Montezuma Mesa. He was special teams MVP in 1990 and ’92.

But, Miami. But, USC.

Ask former Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding about being, at one time, the most reliable leg in NFL regular-season history. Reputations rapidly wilt when rare misses come at the worst possible times.

“It’s either the penthouse or the outhouse,” Trakas said. “That’s the way it is for a kicker. At the end of the day, you sign up for that.”

In the final game of 1990, the Aztecs pushed No. 3 Miami at Jack Murphy Stadium. Miscues, including three missed field goals in a span of 8:25 while trailing by 10, contributed to the stirring comeback stalling at 30-28. Instead of the first top-10 win in program history, heartbreak.

In the 1992 season-opener against USC, the Aztecs clawed at their first win against a Pac-10 team in 14 attempts. Faulk, a sophomore, ran for 220 yards. Trakas missed a 30-yard field goal with 58 seconds to go. An interception breathed life again in the final seconds, but a 55-yard attempt sailed wide right in the 31-31 tie.

Five days later, Trakas drilled his only field-goal attempt and finished a perfect 6 for 6 on extra points as the Aztecs stopped No. 25 BYU in Provo, 45-38.

What did people remember? Guess.

“I say to students, ‘Are you feeling sorry for yourself? How would you like being on the front page of the (newspaper) holding your head in your hands?’ ” Trakas said. “The man upstairs provided this toolbox for me. Why not use it?”

When Trakas graduated from San Diego State, he worked out at a 49ers camp in the spring of 1993. After being cut, he attended a tryout with the Cardinals and finished third in a winner-take-all casting call for about 40 eager legs.

Trakas scratched out parts of two seasons with arena football’s Arizona Rattlers as prospects dimmed.

As he began a 16-year run as an educator at Hoover High School, Trakas harvested those difficult memories rather than run from them. He used scratchy VHS tapes to show students his own very public highs and lows.

“You say, ‘The only thing you can do is give 100 percent every day and stay positive,’ ” he said. “Those are character-building moments. You want students to understand how important it is to be resilient. Don’t give up. Get back up. Failure is part of the recipe of success.


Decades ago, the old hospital groomed and polished by AEA dealt with cases so rough and rugged that paramedics nicknamed it the San Diego Knife and Gun Club. Superintendent David Sciarretta envisioned a modern-day educational phoenix, rising from the discarded bed pans and sawdust.

They lobbied investors as the school purchased the facility for $2.5 million and through $15 million worth of bonds, Trakas said, fueled a remarkable makeover.

This isn’t some stuffy charter school. About 60% of students are Hispanic, with most drawn in from neighborhoods like Sherman Heights, Grant Hill, Logan Heights, Barrio Logan, Golden Hill and other areas ringing Balboa Park.

Trakas worked with staff to jump in front of coronavirus unknowns two months ago. The school deployed laptops and hot spots to connect an estimated 92% of students with school activities, despite stay-at-home challenges.

The investment in the community was underscored as the principal, Sciarretta and co-workers handed out combo packages with breakfast and lunch items, along with toilet paper.

People drove up. They walked up. They rode scooters. They pushed baby strollers.

Kickers own thick skin. Big hearts, too, apparently.

Trakas recalled a former Hoover student approaching him on the street one day. He wanted to thank his mentor of that moment for a letter Trakas wrote to the Ethiopian Embassy that cleared a path for family to celebrate his graduation in the U.S.

“It’s about stewardship,” he said. “It’s about giving.”

The Greek kid with a big leg and, now, a far more powerful and enduring legacy, mentioned a word in his family’s native language. Filotimo, roughly translated, means “sense of honor.”

The kick is up. … It’s long enough. … It’s straight enough.

It’s all kinds of good.


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