Thanks to his big leg and even bigger personality, freshman kicker Rafael Gaglianone is quickly winning over Wisconsin Badgers players and fans alike.
Gaglianone, a former soccer player from Sao Paulo, Brazil, is looking to bring consistency to a position that has been an area of weakness for the Badgers in recent years.
During the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Wisconsin kickers Kyle French and Jack Russell combined to go just 24 of 39 on field goals. The Badgers were dead last in field-goal accuracy in the Big Ten in 2012 and 10th in 2013, and they haven’t ranked in the top five of that category since 2008.
Head coach Gary Andersen and special teams coordinator Jeff Genyk are hoping Gaglianone can be the guy that turns the position of kicker from a liability into an area of strength.
“[Gaglianone] brings a lot of enthusiasm and confidence,” Andersen said. “He has that edge in competitiveness and he’s a very, very good teammate.”
He quickly asserted himself as the guy to beat on the first day of fall camp, when he made all five of his field goal attempts after telling Andersen that he wouldn’t miss.
“[Gaglianone] is definitely competitive, he’s not afraid to step up to any kind of kick,” redshirt junior punter Drew Meyer said. “If somebody wants to have a left-footed competition, he’ll even go out there and try to do that. He’s not going to back down from any fight.”
Though his first love was soccer as a boy growing up in Brazil, he decided to start really focusing on football during his time at Baylor High School in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“The opportunities are a lot better for football,” Gaglianone said. “You have to be a lot better of a soccer player to make it in the soccer world [in the United States].”
He also believes that his time as a soccer player in Brazil helped him be competitive after making the transition to kicker.
“I was never the greatest soccer player; I got cut from so many teams, I can hardly even count,” Gaglianone said. “I just decided to never give up.”
His perseverance paid off, as he was a two-time all-state selection and was even named Tennessee’s Mr. Football Kicker of the Year during his senior year of high school.
After committing to Wisconsin, Gaglianone faced adversity once again as he tried to receive eligibility to play from the NCAA. But after a battle that lasted several months, he finally earned clearance to play.
“I cannot be more thankful to coach Genyk for sticking with me the entire way,” Gaglianone said. “It was just a struggle, all the way through. I had the grades, I had the ACT scores, but my school back home in Brazil just wasn’t putting in the effort to send me the right paperwork.”
Ever since being declared eligible, Gaglianone hasn’t looked back on his way to winning the starting job for the Badgers and endearing himself to his teammates along the way.
The stocky, 5-foot-11, 231-pound Gaglianone, affectionately called “Meatball” by redshirt sophomore linebacker Vince Biegel, also grabbed the attention of fans and became an Internet sensation due to his celebratory dance after making a 51-yard field goal against LSU.
“Social media works in different ways. What happened for a split-second kind of went viral,” Gaglianone said. “I just feel a little bad that my teammate [sophomore kicker Andrew Endicott], he was the one who came out and did it with me and then they kind of cropped him out from the video.”
Though you wouldn’t know from his personality and confident demeanor, Gaglianone is still a freshman and will likely go through growing pains, such as his missed 33-yard field goal against Western Illinois. However, his upside is greater than any Wisconsin kicker in recent memory.
Gaglianone wears No. 10 for UW, the same number worn by many soccer legends, including Brazilian greats Pelé, Ronaldinho and Neymar. While Gaglianone won’t be going down as an all-time soccer great like he might have once dreamed, his powerful leg and unique personality could help him etch his name in Wisconsin Badgers football lore.