January 2022 Editor's Note: Since the time of publishing, A.J. has proudly announced his commitment to UMass . We wish to congratulate A.J. on his decision and wish him all the best! This month, we are proud to feature Zionsville Community High School (ZCHS) Senior AJ Vinatieri—the son of former Indianapolis Colts placekicker and NFL legend Adam Vinatieri—about what developing his own name and legacy has been like so far and what the future looks like for the talented kicker. Developing His Own Legacy When Vinatieri was a young boy, he played for the Carmel Dads’ Club. As he continued to develop different skills and explored a variety of football positions, he didn’t set out to become a kicker—it all came together for him organically. “When we got to the age where we could start doing kickoffs, one of my coaches was like, ‘Who wants to kick?’ and everyone was like, ‘Oh, I’m sure AJ does,’ and everyone kind of laughed,” Vinatieri recalled. “And I said, ‘OK—I’ll give it a shot.’ I started kicking, and I realized I had a strong leg but I did not know what I was doing. As time went on and into middle school, I was our punter, kickoff guy and field goal guy.” Prior to football, Vinatieri shared that he thought he would pursue baseball. But his love of football superseded his love of baseball. Vinatieri also admitted that he kicked because the team needed a kicker, not necessarily because he had developed a passion for the position—yet. “I had also played defensive end, offensive tackle and tight end,” Vinatieri shared. “I was looking to be more of a position player. My freshman year , we had kicker tryouts, and I became the field goal kicker, punter and also did kickoffs. After my freshman year was when I realized that I actually enjoyed doing this . I started working with my dad my sophomore year, and that was when we really started working on my kicking.” Vinatieri moved from Carmel to Zionsville as he was entering his junior year of high school. He shared thoughts on that transition and how the Zionsville community and ZCHS coaches, staff and team welcomed him with open arms. And although he is the son of NFL royalty and is highly respected—ZCHS football head coach Scott Turnquist made it clear to Vinatieri that he would have to earn his spot on the team, just like all the other players. “I’ve always felt like I was a very outgoing person, and I always try to meet new people,” Vinatieri said. “I figured it wasn’t going to be too difficult for me to make friends when I moved . When you play football, it’s a team sport—a brotherhood. You build bonds on and off the field. And going into my junior year, I really started to mature, and I realized I needed to be willing to make new friends and needed to be committed to the team that really welcomed me with open arms.” Vinatieri continued, “When I first moved here and first tried out for the team, coach TQ told me, ‘I know who your dad is, and I respect your dad and I respect you, but just because that’s who your dad is, you still have to work and earn you spot on this team.’ I respected that so much. Nothing in life should be given to you. You should always have to work your butt off to succeed. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who my dad is. Coach TQ said to me that I am my own person, and he wants to see me build my own legacy. Everyone always asks if I’m going to be as good as my dad, but I’m just trying to be the best version of myself.” The Value of Commitment, Community and Family Support Vinatieri and his fellow classmates have navigated through some interesting high school experiences throughout the pandemic. Vinatieri shared that it made better relationships with his fellow teammates and made the “wins” even more special. Vinatieri also noted how important the community support was throughout the last two seasons. “It gives me chills thinking about when we went to state our junior year and how crazy that whole year was,” Vinatieri said. “Our entire team went through so much, and we had to deal with a lot of sacrifices. We couldn’t be in public places going to parties, having parties and doing things that teenagers normally do because we couldn’t risk getting COVID-19. That could’ve been the end of our season, so we all held each other accountable and leaned on each other. That was huge. We couldn’t have the seasons we had without every single person on the team following the rules.” When the ZCHS made it to the state games Vinatieri’s junior and senior years, he shared how impactful it was to the entire team to see the community come out and root for the team as they headed down to the championship game. “That was huge seeing the community in how they supported us with the parades and stuff like that,” Vinatieri said reflectively. “We were on the buses driving to the state game, and all the fans and supporters were lined up through downtown almost all the way to where we got on the highway. It was honestly emotional. I was looking around to see my teammates reacting. I had tears in my eyes, and I was watching other people cry because we realized that at the end of the day, football is bigger than a sport. It builds relationships and brings a community together.” Having the support of both of Vinatieri’s parents has been immeasurable to the young athlete. And having his father to help prepare him for the next chapter of his life and athletic career will prove to be even more invaluable. AJ Vinatieri walking off the field with his father, NFL great Adam Vinatieri “My dad’s been telling me that wherever I go, it needs to be the best fit for me,” Vinatieri shared. “He also tells me that you need an education because football doesn’t last forever. If you’re lucky enough to play as long as he did and make a career out of it, that’s awesome, but you always have to have a backup plan. He also tells me things like I have to have fun in college too because these will be some of the best years of my life and that I have to enjoy it. It takes the weight off of my shoulder a little bit when he tells me things like that.” The bond between Vinatieri and his mother, Valeri, is equally as strong as his bond with his iconic father. “My mom is a great woman and has been so supportive of me along this journey,” Vinatieri expressed. “She and I love to go on walks, and we just talk and talk. She’s not only a great mother, but she’s also like a best friend to me. I tell her everything, and being able to have that with your mom is huge because she’s gotten me through so many things, and I would not be the man I am today without her.” The Offers Have Been Pouring In At the time of publishing, Vinatieri had received 17 offers from the nation’s best universities and football programs, including an offer from his father’s alma mater, South Dakota State. We won’t know which offer Vinatieri will accept until National Signing Day on Feb. 2, 2022. But he did share his top five that he’s carefully weighing out. “Not in any particular order, my top five is LSU, IU, University of Massachusetts, University of Miami and South Dakota State,” Vinatieri said. “This recruiting has been about every emotion. It's frustrating, it's exciting, it's stressful, but it's a blessing and I'm super grateful for it.” When asked if the fact that Brian Kelly and Brian Polian (formerly with the University of Notre Dame) are now at LSU has had any influence on his decision-making process, Vinatieri admitted that it is definitely a factor that he is considering, but again, he hasn’t made his final decision yet.