FIU kicker Sergio Sroka is a student with multiple talents.
On Tuesday, he comfortably slid from his first interview to the next, speaking Spanish for the TV cameras and then English for the voice recorders.
In high school, he spent time on the field for two sports, kicking field goals for Belen Jesuit in addition to his team captain duties on the soccer team.
Ultimately, it’s that leg talent that FIU football coach Ron Turner hopes to cultivate from Sroka, as the redshirt freshman will be the one called upon when the Panthers’ season starts Saturday.
“I’m really excited. I’ve been looking forward to this day ever since I put on an FIU uniform,” Sroka said of being the team’s first-team kicker. “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity. I’m very anxious to see what comes out of it.”
The battle for the starting job was one of the fiercest battles through fall practice. Sroka competed against three or four other kickers, and he certainly had his fair share of troubles throughout the process.
Sroka appeared to fall behind at times. At one practice, he missed a kick and then had his subsequent attempt blocked. Turner called the kicking issues “unacceptable.”
But there was not denying Sroka’s talent. On Tuesday, he nailed two kicks easily toward the end of practice during 11-on-11 drills. The second was good enough for a “win” for the offense.
“His attitude has been tremendous,” Turner said. “He’s a good kid. He works really hard and he’s done a good job in practice.”
In addition to his work on the practice field, Sroka’s bloodlines also might have given him a leg up on the competition. Sroka’s father Roberto was a kicker in the NFL for two seasons, playing for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1981 and ’82.
Sroka credits the professional atmosphere Turner has created in Miami in aiding his development.
“The new staff is more NFL-like. I feel like it’s a professional, working environment,” Sroka said. “You’re not tense about anything. You have to perform when you have to perform but it’s a very comfortable environment.”
Sroka has developed to the point where he feels like the special teams unit should no longer be a question mark on the team, saying that the kickers have “progressed every day” since the start of camp.
Turner has no qualms about sending out Sroka during a pressure moment in a big game.
“My feeling has always been if a guy does it in practice, there’s no reason to believe he’s not going to do it in a game,” Turner said. “I have confidence that he’ll do what he’s done in practice.”
Sroka has shown he’s game-ready even before stepping on the field at FIU.
In high school, Sroka played in a regional semifinal as well as multiple all-star games. In the TRU Sports Private vs. Public All-Star Game, Sroka hit the game-winning kick for the Private team to give it an 18-17 win.
Sroka credits his method of zoning out to help him in pressure situations. He said that the process is difficult, especially for kickers, because sometimes they have only one opportunity in the game that determines if they are “the goat or the hero,” Sroka said.
But in preparing for his first season as the starter for the Panthers, Sroka has already set his sights high if he’s called upon in a big spot.
“In college football, I’d love to have a game-winner against any team,” Sroka said. “But with this schedule, it would have to be at Louisville. Last time we went over there we upset them, hopefully this year we beat them again.”