Sharing the Southwestern Conference with the nation's top recruited kicker in years and the state field goal record holder was both a blessing and a curse for Belleville East's Matt Sotiropoulos.
The good part is the friendship and motivation he's taken away from working with Austin Seibert, the Belleville West graduate and current Oklahoma Sooner, and Missouri-bound Tucker McCann of O'Fallon.
The downside of working with a pair of high school All-Americans is the long shadow they cast. Sotiropoulos is a Blue-Gray All-American, too, though he didn't garner the attention of college scouts the others got.
"In the long run I think it's probably a benefit sharing the conference with them because you get to know those guys and see that you can kick with them," Sotiropoulos said. "I felt like I should have gotten a little more attention from the colleges, but I feel really confident right now."
I put most of my focus into my senior year and it really showed. Coach (Kris) Stephens trusted me with some longer chances, too, which was nice. He had the confidence in me, so I had the confidence in myself.
Matt Sotiropoulos, Belleville East senior kicker
So he'll complete in the fall for placekicking and punting duties at Southern Illinois University Carbondale as a non-scholarship walk-on.
He received similar offers from McKendree and the University of Louisville, but picked the SIU for its familiarity — his brother, Andy, attended college in Carbondale — and for the report he had with first-year head coach Nick Hill.
"Coach Hill and some others came up and talked to me personally, and I've been on campus and know the place pretty well," Sotiropoulos said. "It's a good fit for me and Coach said I'll have the chance to go down and compete for a job."
Sotiropoulos spent four years on both the football and soccer teams at East, but he only played in home soccer games. The added focus on football paid off with a stellar senior season.
He finished 9-of-11 in field goal attempts, including a long of 53 and another of 52. He also hit 33 of 34 point-after attempts and averaged 35.7 yards per punt. In practice, he's been good up to 60 yards.
In a key conference game against rival Belleville West in October, Sotiropoulos was good on four attempts and recovered his own on-sides kick to start the second half.
"I put most of my focus into my senior year and it really showed," Sotiropoulos said. "Coach (Kris) Stephens trusted me with some longer chances, too, which was nice. He had the confidence in me, so I had the confidence in myself."
The Salukis will return senior place kicker Austin Johnson, who last season was 14-of-22 with a long of 51 yards. SIU also has junior Nicholas Neidig and red-shirt freshman Lane Reazin on the roster as punters. Neither one saw any game action in 2015.
"I'll be trying to be a place kicker," Sotiropoulos said. "I can punt too, so that will help if they are on fence on making a decision about who to keep."