The Legend of Branko Belichesky, UTEP Football’s Shoeless Kicker
Tall tales in sports feature some of the most fascinating stories you'll ever hear.
When I first heard the tale of Branko Belichesky, the shoeless kicking wonder kicker from UTEP football, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. As a college journalist for The Prospector, I wanted to catch up with the legend himself and hear about this fantasy-like story.
But upon research and interviewing Belichesky, I realized this was no tall tale. This person was gifted beyond measures and his unique story encapsulated him.
About three and a half years ago, I first met Belichesky at the Rescue Mission, where he was fighting a terminal illness. Instead of focusing the story on the hardships he was facing at the time, I took the opportunity to highlight what a fascinating character he was both on and off the field.
Branko (sometimes spelled "Bronco" and others spelled "Bronko") learned the sport of football from his cousin growing up. For the Macedonia native, who spoke nearly no English, football was the perfect way to get accustomed to the area. When he got older, he practiced at the Los Angeles City College basketball gym and aimed to kick field goals through the basketball holsters. Belichesky's football career was kickstarted at LA CC in 1972. After playing at the JUCO level, he chose to play for the Miners.
Although the Miners went through two abysmal seasons while Belichesky kicked for them, the shoeless wonder was one of the highlights of those UTEP squads. His first season under head coach Tommy Hudspeth saw a dismal 0-11 record, but he was still able to knock in 20 field goals. Under new head coach Gil Bartosh in 1974, the team finished 4-7 and Belichesky had some huge performances. Against Arizona State, he had 24 points (8-for-8 on field goals) including a 55-yard booming field goal, as the Miners pulled out a 31-27 win.
The shoeless kicker himself held the UTEP record (55-yards) for the longest field goal in history for nine years.
Belichesky was drafted by the Cowboys following his college career but instead of agreeing to a contract, he elected to take his signing bonus, quit the team and become an attorney. No joke. As a Harvard Law School graduate, Branko practiced law for 27 years in California and then moved back to El Paso.
Most SportsTalk listeners will remember Branko for his hilarious call-ins.
Belichesky passed away three years ago this week, so it's only fitting that we remember the great legacy he left at UTEP. C'mon, how can there ever be another shoeless kicker that can drill a 50-plus yarder in today's game?
To read my full, unedited interview with him from 2017, click here.