When the Yale football team needs the extra points to win, it looks to placekicker Philippe Panico ’13 to blast a field goal and put the Bulldogs ahead.
So far, Panico’s kicks have given the Elis the pivotal edge needed to clinch victories. Last season, his 19-yard field goal as the clock ran out propelled Yale 23–20 over Dartmouth. Two weeks ago, in the middle of a snowstorm, Panico produced a 38-yard field goal to help the Bulldogs edge Columbia 16–13. Then last Saturday, he kicked a pair of field goals to help Yale clinch a 33–24 victory against Princeton. Now, with The Game coming up this weekend, Panico said he is more excited than ever.
“I really want to beat [Harvard], more than anything in the world,” he said. “You always know [a kick] is going to be a big momentum shifter.”
Panico was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil where he began his athletic career playing soccer. He grew up on a farm and said he often kicked a soccer ball against a wall because there were not many other children around and his brother would not always play with him. He moved to Boston when he was eight, and at age 13, Panico decided to take on football and gave up competitive soccer because he said he liked the sport better. In the spring, Panico enjoyed baseball and golf and played on Yale’s varsity golf team during his freshman year.
Although he has played other positions on the football field throughout his youth, Panico now comes to the gridiron only to take kicks. Panico said although his plays are made without the help of his teammates, ultimately, the kicks affect the team’s overall momentum.
The position comes with a different mindset, since the kicker does not see as much field time as other positions.
“It’s definitely a little weird because sometimes I feel like an injured guy… standing on the sidelines talking to people,” he said. “But it makes you value your specific plays when they come around. And when that time comes, you get really excited. I love being out there.”
Panico said because his plays have so much to do with the outcome of the game, he needs to take advantage of every opportunity.
Wide receiver Chris Smith ’13 said Panico is one of the most serious players on the team, and his dedication and hard work have paid off.
While fun, the responsibility to perform consistently is a heavy one, Panico said.
“The worst part of missing my kick is letting my teammates down,” he said. “In golf, if you miss a shot, you’re mad at yourself. But with football, we work so hard and I only get so many plays during the game. We all work so hard that if I miss one, it feels like I’m really letting them down, and wasting an opportunity.”
Panico said the kicker’s role is much more mental than physical, and the key to success is coming into the kick with confidence. When he is feeling sure of himself, Panico said he has never missed a kick. To go into each kick with focus and intensity, Panico said he buckles the chin straps on his helmet to mentally separate being on and off the field.
Panico said he also runs through the kick in his mind before his foot hits the leather.
“Right as I’m about to kick, Ill look up … and find a point that I really want to hit in the distance. I’ll count my steps out loud, saying like ‘one, two, three,’ before I kick … instead of thinking like ‘oh shoot, I hope I don’t miss this kick,’” he said.
Panico said that since freshman year, he has found his niche in the team and that his teammates and coaches trust him to execute his play.
Both teammates interviewed said they have noticed Panico’s commitment to his position and to the team.
“Philippe has an ability to become ultra focused,” defensive end Charles Holmes ’13 said. “Almost instantaneously, he is able to flip a switch and be dialed in to what he needs to get done … He is committed to the team, the coaching staff and alumni, and has made sacrifices to advance himself as a player and the team as a collective.”
Taking the field at the heart of football history, Panico said he is proud to play for Yale. The tradition began with Walter Camp, captain and coach of Yale’s first football squad, who established the rules of the sport. Panico said it is inspiring to see how this Eli tradition has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry.
“I love saying I play football at Yale,” he said. “Football was invented here … it’s a Yale game.