Badgers turn to Brazilian for field goals, extra points
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON--Rafael Gaglianone hasn’t attempted a single kick—field goal or extra point—in a college game.
He has yet to face difficult weather or field conditions in the Midwest, a fierce rush or the sound of thousands of enemy fans screaming for him to choke.
Wisconsin assistant coach Jeff Genyk believes the freshman will handle those obstacles just fine, thank you.
“He’s got tremendous confidence,” said Genyk, who oversees UW’s special teams. “He got sent out of his house at 16 to go to a boarding school … 5,000 miles away.”
Pressure isn’t staring down a 45-yard field-goal attempt with only a few seconds remaining in the game and your team down by a point.
Pressure is leaving Sao Paulo, Brazil, and flying more than 11 hours to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to attend the Baylor School.
“I didn’t know anyone,” said Gaglianone, who is the younger of two boys and was playing soccer when his parents sent him away to Baylor to expand his educational opportunities. “It was getting to the point where I had to decide: ‘Were you focusing on school or were you focusing on a sport?’
“My parents always told me, ‘You’re not going to just take a chance on a sport and give up on school. … We just want you to have the best opportunity in life.’
“It was rough, but it definitely paid off. I met some great people in Chattanooga and look where I ended up. … Sometimes when I tell my story people don’t believe me.”
When Gaglianone arrived at Baylor, he quickly learned students had to wear ties every Monday.
That rule presented a problem for Gaglianone.
“I have no idea how to put on a tie,” he said. “I’ve never tied a tie before.”
Gaglianone crammed for that test, joined the soccer team and met a fellow Brazilian student, Henrique Ribeiro, who eventually convinced his new friend to try out for the football team in his second year.
He made the varsity team as a junior and made 12 of 15 field-goal attempts. That included five kicks of 40 or more yards, including kicks of 50 and 51.
As Gaglianone began attending kicking camps, college coaches heard his name more frequently. His first scholarship offer came from North Carolina State. Former Catholic Memorial High School standout Jamie Kohl, who runs camps for specialists, recommended Gaglianone to Genyk.
Genyk hasn’t forgotten what he heard the first time he went to scout Gaglianone, who as a senior made 10 of 14 field-goal attempts, with a long kick of 57 yards.
“Boom,” Genyk said. “When I went and saw him down in Tennessee, the sound was different.”
UW players and coaches heard the sound from Day 1 of preseason camp.
“It is just one of those things I have going my way,” Gaglianone said. “I don’t know what it is. Every time I hit the ball—if I hit a good strike—I don’t need to look up. I know it’s good.”
Gaglianone opened the first practice with field-goal attempts from 21, 21, 39, 44 and 49 yards.
Coach Gary Andersen offered a few words before the first kick.
“He was challenging me, trying to get in my head,” Gaglianone said. “He said, ‘How many are you going to miss?’”
Gaglianone responded: “‘I’m not going to miss any, coach.’ … When I made them he just kind of looked at me and gave me a nod.”
Listed at 5 feet, 11 inches and 231 pounds, Gaglianone appears set to open the season as the No. 1 kicker for field goals and extra points. He has been the No. 2 kicker on kickoffs, behind sophomore Andrew Endicott.
Genyk acknowledged Gaglianone could handle placements and Endicott could handle kickoffs. Endicott has experience, is a terrific tackler and Gaglianone then could focus on field goals.
Why did Gaglianone choose UW over North Carolina State?
“I was in the south for too long,” he said of his three years in Tennessee. “I wanted to see what else was out there in the USA. Then I came up here to Wisconsin on my visit.”
Gaglianone arrived in Madison for his official visit Nov. 16. Because of travel issues, he missed UW’s 51-3 victory over Indiana.
Despite that mishap and dreary weather—the temperature at kickoff was 48 and fans had to deal with drizzle throughout the game—Gaglianone fell in love with UW.
“I loved the stadium and all the fans out on the streets,” he said. “I got to see all the Big Ten (championship) trophies.
“It has everything I ever wanted to find out about.”
Gaglianone’s final hurdle was to gain clearance from the NCAA. That came last month.
“Any time you take an international student it is more of a challenge,” Genyk said. “You have a transcript from Brazil and they go to school from February to November. So their year is different.
“Also, kids will take Portuguese as their native language and then English as a ‘foreign’ language. A university could look at that and ask: ‘Which one is the foreign language?’
“The NCAA could have its own interpretation. The challenge was to have Rafael be extremely proactive. We started the process in February. He had a state-appointed translator translate the transcript into English and it was sent to UW and the NCAA. Then there was an analysis of all the core courses.
“It was just communication back and forth to ensure everything was OK. We really felt confident we’d be able to get that done.”
Genyk credited the diligence of Gaglianone and Joel Ott, UW’s senior associate director of compliance, for providing the NCAA with the necessary information.
“The credit goes to them for working with the NCAA on a daily basis in May and in June,” he said, “and we got good news in July.”