July 10, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin's freshman placekicker Rafael Gaglianone watched in agony with each and every goal; not one, not two, not three, not four ...
By the end of the LeBron James-like countdown - and the first half - Germany had stunned Brazil on its home turf by taking a shocking 5-nil lead en route to a 7-1 victory in Tuesday's World Cup semifinal in Belo Horizonte, a little over 300 miles from Gaglianone's home in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
A day later, Gaglianone was still in a little shock. "It was unbelievable,'' he said. "I was kind of waiting for someone to pinch my arm and for me to wake up from the nightmare. It was something I've never seen before and I've been watching soccer my whole life. It was truly disappointing and it hurt.''
While watching the match from the UW players' lounge adjacent to the team locker room in the McClain Center, Gaglianone couldn't believe his eyes when it began falling apart so quickly for Brazil, the five-time Cup champions. Some of his teammates were sympathetic. "They felt bad for me,'' he said.
Others were hooting and hollering. "They were going crazy with each goal,'' he recounted. "After you go down 3-nil, it's hard to come back, especially playing a team as good as Germany. They were just a much stronger team and better in every part of the game.''
Taking on the role of a soccer analyst, not just a fan, Gaglianone felt that Brazil was hurt more by the absence of its suspended captain and best defender, Thiago Silva, than it was by the loss of its leading scorer and budding superstar, Neymar, who was injured in a quarterfinal win over Columbia.
"Silva was definitely our rock (on defense) and most of our mistakes were back there (against Germany),'' he noted. "Neymar was definitely a big loss with all the special things that he has been doing for us (four goals in the tournament) but Thiago Silva was more of a technical loss.''
Gaglianone knew how Brazilians would react to such a humbling, embarrassing defeat.
"Friends sent pictures from back home and it was kind of a sad scene,'' he said. "It's so much more than just a game for us, it's a religion, it's everything some people have. The game can give hope to people who have no hope. It means so much to the country. Seeing those fans crying really hurts."
|"It's so much more than just a game for us," Gaglianone said. "It's a religion, it's everything some people have. Seeing those fans crying really hurts."
Soccer has always been Gaglianone's passion. "I've been playing ever since I remember walking,'' he said. "In Brazil, it's a totally different culture than here. You're not raised saying `I want to be a baseball player or a football player.' It's, `I want to be a soccer player.' I always had that dream.''
When he wasn't playing soccer, he was looking for the big wave on his surfboard. His dad, Eduardo, was a professional surfer. "It was always something I loved to do,'' Rafael Gaglianone said. "But it was more of a getaway type of thing. Soccer was the sport that I played my entire life.''
A similar narrative applies to his older brother, Thiago Gaglianone, a junior at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Calif. A two-year starter as a midfielder, he scored the game-winning goal in overtime to send Cal Lutheran to the NCAA Division III soccer tournament last season.
Thiago Gaglianone, a transfer from Francis Marion University in South Carolina and a product of Montverde Academy in Florida, blazed a trail for Rafael Gaglianone, who came to the United States three years ago as an exchange student at Baylor School, a private boarding school in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
"Soccer was kind of the ticket to come here but the main reason I came was to get a better education,'' Rafael said. "Speaking a different language and being around a different culture, you can learn so much more than just being in the classroom and I really took advantage of the opportunity.''
The original plan was to earn a college soccer scholarship. But Gaglianone took a different path after meeting one of his brother's friends, Henrique Ribeiro, who was also from Sao Paulo. Ribeiro was a senior placekicker on the Baylor football team when Gaglianone arrived from Brazil.
They became close after discovering that they had so much in common. It was Ribeiro who encouraged Gaglianone to go out for football. And it was Gaglianone who later replaced Ribeiro as the team's kicker after Ribeiro graduated and moved on to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
"It was a big struggle at first,'' Gaglianone said of his transition to football (he played JV as a sophomore.) "Kicking the soccer ball really helped me out with my leg strength. The swings are somewhat similar but the way you hit the ball and the follow-through is completely different.''
Once he got a hang of the kicking mechanics and started to master the techniques, he got some positive results. As a junior, Gaglianone was still raw but he definitely proved that he had the leg strength by converting 12 of 15 field goals, including five of 40 yards or longer. His longest was 51.
That following summer, between his junior and senior year, he embarked on a journey to show off his kicking skills with the hope of attracting interest from college recruiters. Gaglianone attended football camps at North Carolina State, Ohio State, LSU, Texas A & M, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
"In talking with my parents, I knew an opportunity would come from one of these kicking camps,'' he said. "I had to show myself out there and it was a really long month traveling by myself around the United States trying to find a home.''
North Carolina State was the first to offer a tender. Others requested video. Wisconsin, which had undergone a coaching transition from Bret Bielema to Gary Andersen, got interested and arranged for a visit. The lead recruiter was assistant Jeff Genyk, who handles special teams and the tight ends.
As a senior, Gaglianone was named Tennessee's Mr. Football "Kicker of the Year," an honor that Ribeiro had previously captured. Gaglianone converted 10 of 14 field goal attempts. He nailed a 57-yarder and just missed wide left from 63 yards, which would have been the state record.
"I had the distance,'' said Gaglianone, who recorded touchbacks on 42 of 44 kickoffs.
Although he had some flight delays getting into Madison for his official visit last November, he made the most of his trip. "I already knew about the academics and all the great things that this school has to offer,'' said Gaglianone, who was also sold "on all of the people here and the coaching staff.''
Others have since bought into Gaglianone's upside. National kicking specialist Chris Sailer has been impressed with his "big leg and excellent consistency'' along with what he labeled a "pure and very true'' ball. In addition, he liked his competitiveness, work ethic and ability to kick under pressure.
Gaglianone certainly stands out from most place kickers. He's 5-11 1/2 and weighs 233 pounds. "I keep hearing I don't look like a kicker,'' he said. "I'm not your typical kicker. I'm not a small guy whatsoever. It seems to be working for me. But I'm definitely working towards getting leaner.''
At Baylor School, he wore jersey No. 10, which has long been associated with some of Brazil's greatest soccer players from Pele to Rivaldo to Neymar. At Wisconsin, he has been assigned No. 43 since No. 10 belongs to cornerback Devin Gaulden, a redshirt junior out of Miramar, Fla.
"Kickers don't really get to pick and choose,'' he said. "We're just glad to have a jersey.''
The Badgers will open the 2014 season against LSU in Houston. Members of Gaglianone's host family in Chattanooga were LSU graduates and were hoping that he would sign with the Tigers. They were high on his list, he said. The first college football game that he attended was in Baton Rouge.
Now, he would like nothing better than to get on the field against LSU.
"I've been looking forward to that moment from the day I got here,'' he said of the August 30 opener. "I really want to be a part of this team. I feel like we can be something special and I don't want to be just watching from the sidelines. I want to have the opportunity to compete right away.''