On Aug. 27 last year, a one-minute video was posted from the Ithaca College football Twitter account, with the tweet asking, “Ever wonder what goes through a kicker’s mind in practice?”

The subject was junior kicker and Clarke County High School graduate Nick Bahamonde. With COVID-19 having wiped out the New York school’s 2020 season, Bahamonde was getting ready for his first college football season since 2019, when he was the Liberty League Special Teams Player of the Year.

Much of the video demonstrates Bahamonde’s free-spirited personality, which is one of the reasons why Ithaca head coach Dan Swanstrom says Bahamonde is a beloved teammate.

The end of the video shows another reason why Bahamonde is so revered. With the entire team watching, Bahamonde drilled a 52-yard field goal after uttering “School record. Oh boy,” prior to the kick. Players yelled as the kick went through, one lifted him up, and several others circled around him and tapped his helmet.

Bomber football players will yell for Bahamonde out of joy, but never out of surprise. Bahamonde was lethal on field goals as a freshman (he made 11 of 13), and he was even more prolific as a junior, connecting on 18 of 22 attempts to set a school record for successful field goals.

The 6-foot-1, 160-pound Bahamonde not only repeated as the Liberty League Special Teams Player of the Year, but his NCAA Division III-best 18 field goals caught the attention of national organizations. When it was said and done, Bahamonde received First Team All-America honors from the American Football Coaches Association, The Associated Press and the D3 Football Network, and he was named a Second Team All-American by D3football.com.

There are a lot of reasons why Ithaca (8-2 overall, 5-1 Liberty) finished the year as the 21st ranked team in the nation, and Bahamonde’s personality and kicking prowess were prominent.

Bahamonde — who connected from 66 yards away with the help of some wind in pregame warmups on Sept. 11 at SUNY Brockport — also made 32 of 34 extra points and had 24 touchbacks on his 65 kickoffs this year. He has yet to attempt a 50-yard field goal in a game at Ithaca (50 yards is the school record), but he’s had six games in his career with at least one 40-yard-plus field goal, with a long of 47 yards.

“Every time we’re in special teams drills, it’s always electric,” said Swanstrom in a phone interview. “The team is always interested to see what he can do. Some of those moments in practice when he hits a 58-, 59-yarder, the electricity at practice goes up to a whole new level. I just don’t know how many kickers can pull a team together like he can.”

Bahamonde’s life is about much more than football — after the COVID-19 pandemic started in March of 2020 he went 17 months without touching or kicking a football — but there’s no question he enjoys being around his teammates, and helping them succeed.

“We’re all just friends with each other and we like being around each other,” Bahamonde said. “We all just get along so well on and off the field.

“All the accolades and stuff are great, but as long as we’re winning as a team and doing well, that’s literally all that matters.”

A three-year standout at Clarke County, Bahamonde has gotten the job done ever since he arrived at Ithaca.

With Bahamonde being a film, photo & visual arts major, it was Ithaca’s academics that initially intrigued him, but he also figured kicking was worth a shot in college, too. Bahamonde attended a football camp at Ithaca prior to his senior year at Clarke County, and it was clear that he was someone who could help the team.

When he arrived at Ithaca, there was an open three-player competition for the kicking job in the preseason, and Bahamonde stood out.

“He’s a tremendous, explosive athlete,” said Swanstrom of Bahamonde, who was also a standout soccer player at Clarke. “His leg strength and height were immediately evident. And part of being in that position is being cool, calm and collected, and that’s his natural DNA.”

When it comes to his kicking approach, Bahamonde doesn’t complicate things.

“You have to think of everything as just one kick at a time,” Bahamonde said. “I focus solely on the moment. I don’t think of any kick I’ve missed, or kicks I might have later.

“I just focus on that kick. I’ve done it so many times now. I show up, and I know I know how to do it. I try not to make them any bigger than they have to be.”

Bahamonde made his one field goal attempt, 7 of 8 extra points and had four touchbacks on eight kickoffs in first career game, but he got a huge boost of confidence after his second game. After making 2 of 2 field goals (including a 43-yarder), all three of his PATS and sending four kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, Bahamonde earned Liberty League Rookie of the Week.

“Being a kicker is all about confidence,” Bahamonde said. “I had to make sure I kept that going the rest of the year.”

Bahamonde would earn Rookie of the Week honors five times, Liberty Special Teams Performer of the Week once and D3football.com Team of the Week honors once the rest of the year. In addition to being Special Teams Player of the Year, he was also named First Team All-Liberty League after helping the Bombers go 8-3 overall and 4-2 in league play.

With the 2020 season canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, it would be two years before Bahamonde would kick again in a college game.

When COVID-19 became a pandemic in March of 2020, Ithaca went to virtual learning. With Bahamonde back in Berryville, Ithaca continued with remote learning in the fall of 2020, though he chose to take courses with Northern Virginia Community College to save on expenses.

Ithaca offered a hybrid of campus and online learning in the spring of 2021, but Bahamonde elected to take the semester off. He began working in various roles at Shawnee Springs Market in Winchester in January, with the intent of using the income from that job to help with his planned road trip out West in March.

Bahamonde took the trip by himself in his Toyota 4Runner. He reached Southern California in four days. He then made his way up to Oregon, made his way back down to Malibu, Calif., and Lake Tahoe on the California/Nevada border, then headed toward Southern Utah and Colorado. He arrived back in Virginia about five weeks after leaving Berryville to return to work at Shawnee Springs.

“I really wanted to go and experience as much as I could,” Bahamonde said. “With so much time off, I realized it’s a unique time in my life. I had no responsibilities, I was living at home, I had a job I could take a lot of time off for.”

Bahamonde posted a four-minute video of his experience on YouTube that shows him enjoying things like mountain and water views, engaging in activities like hiking and skiing, and sharing his perspective on the trip and life in general through his narration.

“I learned about how to talk to strangers, being resilient, problem-solving,” Bahamonde said. “When it’s just you and your car, you have to be creative with how you live and function, and when problems arrive, you just have to figure it out. I just feel much more well-rounded after that trip.”

Bahamonde spent each night in his car in a sleeping bag, and he would find places like Walmart parking lots, camping territory, or just the side of the road to sleep. He showered once each week at a truck stop.

Bahamonde said it helped to have such a long break away from football and focus on his other life interests. When he returned to Ithaca, his excitement was high, and it showed in his play.

Bahamonde was named Liberty League Special Teams Performer of the Week six times in his All-American season. On Nov. 6, he made all four of his field goal attempts in a 26-7 win over No. 11 Union to tie a single-game school record.

That game showed the extent of Bahamonde’s mental strength.

A week earlier, Ithaca suffered its first loss of the year on the road against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. With the score 14-11, Bahamonde missed a 35-yard field goal attempt wide with 30 seconds left that would have tied the game. RPI wound up winning the game by that score and earned the Liberty’s automatic NCAA playoff berth thanks largely to that win, as the Engineers and Ithaca each finished with 5-1 conference marks and RPI had the tiebreaker.

“That was the first kick of my career where there was that much pressure, and I missed,” Bahamonde said. “It was all on me. I sat on the bus, and it was about a three-hour ride home. I put on my sad music and was kind of bummed out. By the time I got back to school, I realized it’s done. It’s in the past. I can’t change it. I didn’t want to be someone who was a great, hit a wall and stopped.”

Bahamonde starred the following week against Union, then hit a season-long 45-yarder in the season finale against non-conference rival and No. 13 SUNY Cortland in the 62nd Cortaca Jug game.

That game had an unfortunate ending for Bahamonde, as Cortland — which tied for third nationally in blocked kicks with nine this year to continue their penchant for success in that departmen — blocked a potential go-ahead 35-yard field goal kick by Bahamonde with 1:51 left and defeated Ithaca 28-27.

Still, there’s nothing quite like a game against Cortland. This year’s game drew 8,642 fans, more than double the attendance of any other Ithaca game, but that pales in comparison to the 2019 Cortaca Jug game.

That was played in front of an NCAA Division III record 45,161 fans at the New York Giants’ and Jets’ MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., with Ithaca winning 32-20. Next year’s Cortaca Jug game will be played Nov. 12 at Yankee Stadium.

“The rivalry is unlike anything I’ve experienced in sports,” Bahamonde said. “It feels so special. Being able to play for that many people, you feel like the whole campus is kind of behind you, and you’re really representing the school for that game.

“When they announced [in September] we were going to play in Yankee Stadium next year, I was blown away. Knock on wood, I won’t get hurt or anything, but to kick in the Bronx, I think that’s going to be even cooler than MetLife.”

It wouldn’t be the first time Bahamonde was blown away by a news development. When he found out from his roommate he had been selected as a First Team All-American in December, that was definitely a moment to savor.

“It’s surreal, coming from Clarke County,” Bahamonde said. “It’s such a small school and all that. When my roommate told me, I just couldn’t believe it. I still don’t know how to describe it well.”

Swanson believes Bahamonde has the potential to play professionally based on how he’s performed. Bahamonde said he’ll see what happens when his collegiate career is over.

For now, he’s just going to focus on the approach of staying in the moment that’s helped him achieve so much success, and he’s hoping that an Ithaca team that will return more than half of its starters in 2022 will play even better.

“I think the sky’s the limit for us,” Bahamonde said. “This group works so well together, and I think our expectations for next year are way higher than they were for this year.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at

rniedzwiecki@winchesterstar.com

Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1

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