From the Ground Up: Nino Alibegic
Contributor / Will Stone
Nino Alibegic’s whole life has been about building something out of nothing.
The son of Bosnian refugees, he was born into a family that had to make do with very little for much of his childhood.
The same can be said for his kicking career.
Alibegic didn’t start playing football until his senior year, and even then, he was the backup to an All-Conference kicker. He came away from high school without any kicks, and what little game film he did have came in the form of kickoffs. There should’ve been no way that his football career stretch past high school.
Yet it did.
But to know what Alibegic has done and where he’s headed, one must go back to his roots to fully understand the magnitude of what he’s accomplished.
Alibegic’s parents grew up in Bosnia and fled to Austria around the time of the Bosnian genocide in 1995. His father and pregnant mother then traded Austria for Idaho, immigrating to the United States to give their family a chance at a better life. They called Boise home until he was in the fourth grade before they moved again, this time to Hawaii.
All the while, Alibegic played soccer. His parents’ European roots led him to the sport as a child and his parents invested heavily in that endeavor, supporting him along the way.
Before his freshman year, his parents got a divorce, leaving Alibegic with a choice to make — stay home with his mom on the island or return to Boise with his dad.
“I really didn’t want to go with my dad because of things involved with the divorce,” he said. “I also didn’t want to stay in Hawaii because I thought I’d probably end up as just another athlete there.”
So he chose Boise, knowing it would be the best move for his athletic career moving forward. He played soccer at his Idaho high school up until his senior year when his thirst for a state title led him to football.
“We had a really good football team, but it was a young team. We weren’t expected to win state titles,” he said. “But I was thinking ‘there’s no way I’m going four years without a state championship.’ Although the football team already had a kicker, I decided I’d join to try and get a ring.”
That year they ended up losing in the state title game. Though the state title eluded him, the switch to football altered his future remarkably.
“I remember at one point later in the season it was raining and we were on the left hash, 47-yards back. At that point I don’t think I’d kicked anything over 30 yards in practice — I’d just take three steps back, two to the left, and kick it,” he said. “But I hit one decent ball and my kicking coach told me, ‘you could be a college kicker if you stick with it.’”
Though the coach’s words initially went over his head, after looking into scholarships for football and soccer, he decided pursuing college football was financially a better option.
“I told my parents I wasn’t going to play soccer anymore, that I wanted to try playing football at the next level. I needed to take this chance and see what can happen. When I called my mom and told her I remember her just breaking down. She had put a lot of money into my soccer career with traveling and all that.”
At this point, Alibegic knew there was no going back — he was all in on a game where he held very few of the cards.
The dream could’ve died right there, but through his stepbrother came his first opportunity at playing college football.
“My stepbrother was committed to Pima Community College. Through him I had the opportunity to go there and walk on,” he said.
It seemed Alibegic would be headed to Pima, Arizona to play football. That was until a high school teammate, one headed to junior college football powerhouse Arizona Western, opened a door in that direction as well.
“A couple days before Signing Day I was talking with a teammate of mine. He was a Nebraska commit at one point and had a couple Power 5 Conference offers, but decided to go the JUCO route at Arizona Western. We were talking about where we were going and I joked with him that I’d go there too, if they offered,” he said.
That teammate later told the Arizona Western staff about Alibegic, leading them to offer Alibegic a spot on their roster, with the caveat that he’d have to beat out some other kickers they would bring in.
Alibegic jumped on the opportunity and ended up earning the starting job for their season opener against rival Iowa Western — his first ever in-game kicking experience.
His career’s start was auspicious to say the least.
The first PAT attempt of his career was blocked and returned for two points.
Alibegic was called on again to kick the game-tying 24-yard field goal with seven seconds left in the game.
“It barely went over the bar,” he said. “That was my first time on the field, my first ever field goal. I freaked out. I came running off the field and just didn’t know what to think. It was crazy.”
Arizona Western won the game in overtime and Alibegic went on to have a season warranting of All-Conference recognition. As the seventh-ranked JUCO kicker in the nation, things were looking up for Alibegic.
But, when it came time for the coaches to determine which players would be placed on full scholarship, Alibegic’s name did not get called.
Alibegic wrestled with his next decision. Does he stay at Arizona Western where he’d been thriving on a partial scholarship or does he go to another school, one in an unfamiliar environment, but one where he could be on full scholarship and alleviate some financial pressure for his mother?
He elected the latter, taking a full scholarship to transfer to Independence Community College in Kansas where he later collected that elusive ring — a conference championship anda bowl ring.
Since, several Division I schools have noticed his play. He’s taken visits to Oregon, TCU, Utah, and Oklahoma while also gaining interest from a handful of Pacific Northwest schools.
Alibegic will be featured on Season 3 of Netflix’s Last Chance U series set to premiere in 2018. Picked as one of the main on-camera subjects, Alibegic was excited for the opportunity to give the kicking community some exposure. “The last thing I want to be is just another kicker. My goal is to change the way the position’s looked at,” he said.
Past college, Nino Alibegic has sky high dreams of playing in the NFL. Though playing at the next level may seem unlikely, one should be hesitant to count Alibegic out. As a high school senior who’d never kicked a football to an All-Conference JUCO kicker preparing to make the jump to Division I, Alibegic is no stranger to beating the odds.