Beyond the Field

JUDY OWEN

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

Not many of us go to work and get booed by 25,000 people when we make a mistake.

That's been the case a number of times this season for rookie Blue Bombers kicker Alexis Serna, who's been the target of verbal punches for his inconsistency.

Yet the 23-year-old has weathered the barrage and connected on 11 of his last 12 field-goal attempts heading into today's CFL East Division semifinal against the Edmonton Eskimos.

So what makes him such a fighter?

Well, you could say it started at birth.

Serna is named after Nicaraguan boxer Alexis Arguello, a former featherweight, junior lightweight and lightweight world champion who retired in 1995 and carried Nicaragua's flag at this year's Olympic Games opening ceremonies.

"My dad is a boxing fan," Serna explained.

Serna grew up in Fontana, Calif., with three brothers and one sister. His dad is a glazer for a window company and his mom a teacher.

His love of sports began with soccer and he was a two-time, all-league performer in high school. He also ran track and began playing football.

In his junior year, he met a kicking coach who told him he had a shot at playing Division I football so he put away his dream of playing college soccer.

A walk-on at Oregon State, he red-shirted his freshmen year and got a job as a janitor at the school because he didn't have a scholarship.

"I worked odd hours," said the history major. "I was up at two in the morning working, then I would eat breakfast, go to class and then go to practice."

His first game in 2004 was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

The 5-foot-7 placekicker missed three converts -- two in regulation and one in overtime -- and his team lost 22-21 to Louisiana State.

"(The converts are) from 20 yards out, it's not 12 yards like up here," he noted.

His dubious debut and a photo of him yelling in frustration after the last miss made headlines across the U.S.

"It was the highlight game of the week and so everybody was watching it," Serna recalled.

"It pretty much ended up on the front page of every sports page in the nation. It was a little tough, but I knew I could do it so I didn't really let it affect me too much."

He was benched for the next game but came back swinging and impressed Oregon head coach Mike Riley (of Blue Bombers fame) so much that he was offered a scholarship at the end of the season.

Serna showed his appreciation in his second year, winning the 2005 Lou Groza Award as the best placekicker in U.S. college football.

He added punting to his repertoire in his senior year and graduated as Oregon's all-time scoring leader. Oh yeah, he also never missed a convert since that first game.

He believes going through those tough times has helped him in his rookie pro season, which started under a glaring spotlight when 17-year Bomber kicker Troy Westwood was cut in training camp.

"It definitely does, knowing I'm able to fight through adversity," he said. "That's what I was known for back in college -- if I got in a tough rut I could be able to get out. (I'm) mentally strong."

He also has a good support system.

He often calls his fiance Julie Garcia, whom he's marrying in 2010. She works for a company that does employee wellness programs in Oregon City, where he lives in the off-season.

He also gets professional support from his former college roommate, Sam Paulescu, a punter with the NFL Dallas Cowboys, and his old college kicking coach.

His Bomber teammates have also remained behind him in what he calls his "horrible" season.

"I'm surrounded by a great group of guys and they've rallied around me in tough times," said Serna, who hopes to have a post-football career as a weightlifting coach.

"They all have faith in me and believe that I can do it so that definitely helps out a lot."


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