As they competed during training camp, Cal kickers Giorgio Tavecchio and Vince D'Amato always knew there was one thing that would prevent the competition from inhibiting their burgeoning friendship.
Whatever happened on the field, the kickers always had their roots. Tavecchio and D'Amato are native-born Italians, something that helped them form an instant bond the moment they were united on campus.
"We told each other, whatever happens, happens. Forza Italia!" D'Amato said.
D'Amato, a true freshman, went up against Tavecchio and David Seawright, both sophomores, for placekicking duties during training camp. In the end, coach Jeff Tedford went with an all-Italian kicking game, picking D'Amato to handle field goals and Tavecchio to do kickoffs.
Truth be told, the Italian kickers' similar roots have produced a rivalry just as much as a bond. During a recent conversation at Gypsy's Trattoria Italiano in Berkeley, they went back and forth on the virtues of their hometowns — Tavecchio is from Milan and D'Amato hails from Sicily. They also debated the appeal of their favorite soccer teams and what constitutes the best Italian food.
"He's from the South. They are more traditional there. More mafia," Tavecchio said.
"They're rich in the North because of the mafia," D'Amato shot back. "They work with the mafia. That's why they are all so wealthy up there."
On Italian cuisine, D'Amato said: "They eat
But the biggest debate is over soccer. D'Amato came to Cal last spring to watch spring practice, and after meeting each other for the first time, the kickers immediately started defending their favorite team.
"He likes Juventus. He's from the South. I don't even know why he likes them," Tavecchio said. "They cheat. They've been cheating for about 20 years."
Tavecchio, on the other hand, is a fan of Inter Milan. D'Amato, of course, has his reservations about Tavecchio's taste.
"They don't have any Italian players on their team. There are two, maybe," he said.
It's all good-natured trash talk, and you can tell the two have hit it off and have developed a mutual respect for one another. They evaluate each other's technique and try to push each other in practice.
"Competition for us is good," Tavecchio said. "It makes us better. All I am worried about is kicking to my potential. If I play, fine. If not, I'm going to make him the best kicker possible, and I hope he does the same thing for me."
D'Amato was born in Sicily and lived there until he was about 7½, then moved to Mission Viejo. He earned all-state recognition at El Toro High-Lake Forest and was brought in to compete with Tavecchio and Seawright after a few seasons of inconsistency from Cal's kicking game.
D'Amato kicked his first collegiate field goal in Saturday's season-opener, a 31-yarder against Maryland.
"I can only kick to my potential, so I'm going to push to do my best," D'Amato said. "It's fun having the competition. There's no slacking off on any kick. If you slack off once, somebody can move ahead of you."
Tavecchio was born in Milan, then moved to Shelton, Conn., with his family when he was 3. They moved back to Rome for three years when Tavecchio was 9, then returned to the United States for good when he was 12. Tavecchio's family landed in Moraga, although they spent a few years in Washington, D.C.
Tavecchio joined the Bears as a walk-on just three days before the beginning of last season and ended up as the team's full-time placekicker in 2008.
"I've been satisfied with my kicking," Tavecchio said. "I feel like I've done my best. Vince is a good kicker, too, and the coaches felt like he deserves it. I'm just going to keep working hard, keep pushing him and pushing myself. I'm not very disappointed because I put my best effort out there on the field."
G XP FGA FGM Lg Pts
2009 1 6 1 1 31 9
G XP FGA FGM Lg Pts
2008 10 25 13 9 42 52