Winnetka, Sports

New Trier’s superstar kicker and what comes next

Niki Dugandzic is navigating the recruitment process and has one more season as a Trevian

One day during the COVID lockdowns, New Trier football coach Brian Doll took his kids to a local park to play catch.

That’s when he first spotted then-eighth-grader Nikola “Niki” Dugandzic working on his kicking. Right away, Doll knew he was watching something special.

The next fall, Dugandzic was the first freshman Doll ever promoted to the varsity roster. And today, Dugandzic is the No. 1 punter and No. 1 kicker in the Chris Sailer Kicking national prep rankings.

He gets the kind of attention rare for a kicker, but then again he’s a rare kicker.

Dugandzic has punted and kicked for the varsity Trevians since he was a freshman. | Rob Lange Photography

Last fall, Dugandzic punted 41 times for a 41.9-yard average, with 17 kicks landing inside the 20. All but one of his 32 kickoffs were touchbacks.

“His kickoffs are what blows everybody away,” Doll said.

Against Maine South, one of Dugandzic’s kicks cleared the end zone by 10 yards and thumped off one of the drums in the Hawks’ marching band.

That’s the kind of performance that has officials routinely asking Doll during pregame meetings, “Is the kicker still here?”

He is, for one more year.

With the spring evaluation period underway, Dugandzic expects to be working out for and talking to plenty of college recruiters with the goal of making his college choice by the summer.

Punters and kickers — especially during the transfer-portal era — often have to wait till late in the recruiting process to land a spot and some wind up having to walk on. But it’s an indication of how highly colleges regard Dugandzic that he already owns seven Division I offers from the likes of Army, Air Force, Harvard and Cornell.

Dugandzic is a big kicker — standing at 6 feet 5 inches and weighting 205 pounds — with a big leg, due in no small part to the work he puts in.

“He lifts with our linebackers and linemen,” Doll said, “which is not normal for kickers.

“He’s more than just a football player. He’s a starter on the volleyball team. He’s just a tremendous athlete.”

“Growing up, I was all soccer,” Dugandzic said. “My dad, he’d watch my games and he realized I had a really strong leg. One day after a soccer game he brought up football.”

Bernard Dugandzic, who was a punter and kicker for Lane Tech before walking on at the University of Illinois, taught his son the basics.

The younger Dugandzic has since worked with former Niles North and Western Michigan punter and former Northern Illinois kicker Chris Nendick as he’s risen to the top of the list of prep punters and kickers.

Right now, he’s also a starter for the Trevians’ boys volleyball team, showing off another side of his athletic ability. He still practices kicking on a regular basis, and he’s doing weight training two mornings a week.

Dugandzic with representatives of Penn State football, one of many programs considering the kicker/punter.

“It sounds like a lot,” he said of his busy spring schedule. “I knew it was going to be a challenge.”

But Dugandzic, who is weighing possible majors, also knew it would be worth doing the work in order to get his college paid for.

That football could make that possible is a dream come true.

“I love the sport,” Dugandzic said. “I just love everything about it.”

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Mike Clark

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