BERKELEY — Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio wasn't disturbed that the first field goal attempt of his college career came from 50 yards. He's faced bigger challenges during his short time in Berkeley — you know, like trying to get his teammates to speak Italian.
Tavecchio, a walk-on freshman who hails from Milan, Italy, spent his first game as place-kicker last week at Arizona and just missed a 50-yarder in the first quarter. He went on to make field goals from 42 and 40 yards.
Tavecchio, a former all-league football and soccer player at Campolindo High, had already won the job handling kickoffs when fellow freshman place-kicker David Seawright went down with a strained groin. Seawright is recovering, but Tavecchio may be on his way to solidifying that job as well.
The perpetually energetic and smiling Tavecchio spent the first four years of his life in Milan before his family moved to Shelton, Conn. They went back to live in Rome for another three years before finally settling in the Bay Area.
Tavecchio still speaks with a slight Italian accent and is proud of his heritage. After Cal practices, the team breaks into position groups for a brief meeting and punches it out with a short chant. Recently, Tavecchio tried to get his fellow special teamers to say "Go Bears" in Italian.
"There are a lot of things I liked about him fundamentally," Cal special teams coach Pete Alamar said. "And I liked his demeanor and what he's all about. The way he carries himself, he's a pretty confident guy. I felt he was going to come in and compete."
Tavecchio is a confident player for someone who didn't join the team until three days before the season started. The Bears didn't have enough spots available for him to take part in training camp, so he got to the program once the fall semester began.
Tavecchio's first practice at Cal was on a Wednesday. That Saturday, he handled the opening kickoff against Michigan State to start the season.
"Nothing fazes him," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "He does something and you're ready to strangle him, and he's smiling at you. You just kind of laugh at him."
If it were another kicker, Alamar may have been a little more hesitant to send Tavecchio out for a 50-yarder on his first career attempt. But the Bears already have gotten used to Tavecchio's confident demeanor — which is more a product of his positive outlook than cockiness.
"I've always been a happy guy," Tavecchio said. "Whatever happens, happens. There's always something to learn from it, whether it's positive or negative."
Tavecchio actually lost his job handling kickoffs for a few weeks, but when Seawright and senior Jordan Kay struggled, Tavecchio emerged again. Now, he's in charge of all of the Bears' kicking assignments, something Tavecchio wasn't expecting to happen this season.
"It did not cross my mind once over the summer," he said. "I'm a walk-on kicker. My plan for this year was to just go in and absorb as much as I could and do well in school. I really didn't expect to be doing much in the first year, let alone the first game."
Tavecchio, an accomplished soccer player, had already committed to play at UC Davis when Alamar called him in May. Tavecchio said he grew up an avid soccer fan and never even considered playing college football until he got to Campolindo. Tavecchio had attended Cal's kicking camp the previous summer but had given up hope for a college football career.
"I always played soccer," Tavecchio said. "As a kid, I was always set on playing soccer. I watched all the games with my dad. We had the Italian Channel. It was always soccer."
Ironically, Alamar said the Bears brought in Seawright to handle kickoffs and Tavecchio for field goals. Before Seawright got hurt, they had won the opposite jobs.
"When you see tape on somebody, it's November of their senior year of high school," Alamar said. "Ten months later, you see them again and things can change. For an 18-year-old, the body is changing and they are getting stronger. He went out and worked hard all summer because he wanted to come in and put his best foot forward."
Contact Jonathan Okanes at firstname.lastname@example.org.