An Interview With Oakland Raiders Italian kicker Giorgio Tavecchio

Editor’s Note: This interview was done before the Raiders finished the season and were eliminated from post season play, so comments related to statistics are outdated. He finished the year with a 76.2% FG kicking average, making 16 0f 21 attempts, with 3 of 4 +50 yard FG, the longest of 53 yards. He was good on 33 of 34 extra point attempts. Also, Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio was let go at the end of the season. Nevertheless, Tavecchio’s accomplishments, determination and sincerity are borne out in this interview.

Giorgio Tavecchio, the Italian kicker for the Oakland Raiders, and he spoke exclusively with Dario Aviano from the FIDAF (Federazione Italiana di American Football) in late November.

Giorgio Tavecchio’s story is one of those stories that should be told to youngsters. His story is an example of how tenacity and grit in sport, and especially in life in general, can really help dreams come true.

Much has been said and written about how he fought to play in the NFL, America’s top-flight American football league, and succeeded in being signed by the Oakland Raiders, after years of working his way up and setbacks that would have seen even the toughest of the tough give up long ago.

Giorgio’s is a great Italian story, but it’s also a great American story, as proven by the extensive coverage and attention it received in the States, and not just because of his sporting endeavors. The clincher is everyone likes Giorgio, he’s impossible not to love: his selfless attitude, courtesy, humility, and ability to work hard and always accept coaches’ decisions with a smile have all contributed to why he is one of the favorites in the Raiders’ locker room and respected by teammates and fans alike.

Giorgio is so highly respected that after his debut, when he kicked multiple field goals, the last of which sealed the game, Raiders Head Coach, Jack Del Rio, awarded him the game ball – a post-game tradition in any NFL locker room when the best player is given the game ball.

Giorgio was recently back in the press in a story of respect and courtesy: after his team’s game against the New England Patriots in Mexico City he kept a ball as a memento but realized he had inadvertently taken the ball his opponent, Steven Gostkowski, had kicked 62 yards for a field goal, one of the longest field goals in NFL history. Giorgio didn’t hesitate and made sure the New England kicker got the ball that was his by rights. Yet another story about Giorgio that justifiably made the news.

Giorgio has rightly earned the respect of the NFL, as a player and as a man, but over two months have passed since that September Sunday in Nashville, where his adventure began, and it’s time to take stock of his experience so far.

His dream may have come true, but joining the NFL is not the happy ending to the story for Giorgio, it’s just the start. Now is when it gets tough because he has to work to retain his place and keep his dream alive.

The FIDAF contacted Giorgio who enthusiastically agreed to an interview. Together we will try to work out how his season has gone so far and what we can expect from the future.

Hello Giorgio, and thank you for agreeing to this interview with the FIDAF Press Office.

You’re welcome, it’s a pleasure. Hello to all the Italian fans!

Let’s start with the stats, as we know stats are all important in the NFL. So, after 11 games your stats include 12 field goals made from 15 attempts, the longest being 53 yards, 25 extra points made from 26 attempts, and an excellent percentage of touchbacks on kickoffs. What do you make of your statistics?

Thanks for asking. I’m happy enough with my statistics, but they don’t tell the whole story of a season. I try to look at each game like an individual chapter that is independent from the others, and my only goal in each chapter is to positively contribute to the success of the team. And then maybe I’ll weigh up the statistics when the season is over.

You’ve had to replace an Oakland football icon, Sebastian Janikowski. Not only is he the Raiders’ longest tenured player, but he is also the franchise’s all-time leading recordholder for kickers. How pressurized did you feel stepping into this role?

To be honest, I try not to think about it too much. As I said before, my goal is to be the best I can and give my best for the team at all times. So, I try to focus on the sports side of things and on my preparation (physical, mental and emotional) at every game, without worrying about other things that are generally out of my control.

Janikowski is currently on the team’s injured reserve list, but has recovered from his injury. We know the rules have changed, and from this year every NFL team can activate two players from the injured reserve list at any time during the championship after Week 8. The Raiders still have a spot free, and there has been a lot of discussion that the team may return “Sebass”. Have you had any news about this? How do you get on with him?

I haven’t heard anything yet. I grab every single opportunity that comes my way and do my best. For the rest… what will be will be. Besides, I reckon I’ve got a great relationship with Sebastian: friendly and respectful.

The role of kicker is one of the trickiest in football: kickers often find themselves “watching” the whole game from the sideline before being called on for a single and sometimes decisive action. How important is the psychological factor in your role and how do you manage these situations?

The psychological factor is very important for a kicker because you need to be able to handle the emotion and unpredictability of every game, there’s not much we can control. I try to stay as calm as I can and always make sure I’m ready to go out on the field no matter what is happening out there.  

In the special team, the long snapper, holder and kicker essentially form a team within a team. How important is the understanding between these three players?

This understanding is very important because incredible precision is needed to kick a field goal or an extra point (snap-hold-kick), not only in terms of the technical execution but also the rhythm involved: from snap to kick, it all needs to happen within 1.3 seconds. That’s why it’s crucial for us to all have immense trust in each other, and that’s also why we always train so much together.  

The Raiders aren’t exactly living up to start-of-season expectations, but they can still make the playoffs. Who do you think are the players that can make the difference for the playoffs?

I believe there is a lot of talent in my team, and it is full of players that can make the difference. I can’t choose one: many of them have what it takes to be decisive in the outcome, and there is always someone different who shines from game to game.

Let’s go back to where it all began … We all know the story of how you became a pro player, but maybe not everyone knows or remembers how it all started back at California Berkeley. Can you tell us how you got into football? It was by chance, wasn’t it?

I started playing American football at high school after a friend happened to ask if I wanted to try being the kicker. I initially said no, but after speaking to my mom I changed my mind and decided to give it a shot. My focus in high school was on soccer, and I only went to the American football practice sessions one or two times a week, and often the real reason was the team barbecue! But the more I played, the more I started to love the role of kicker and the game of football: the feeling created between teammates is something real special, there is nothing like the team spirit you get in football. I’d imagined I’d go to college to play soccer after high school, but all that changed after I got an unexpected phone call (May 28 at precisely 4:01 p.m., I’ll always remember it): it was the coach from Cal University (California Berkeley) offering me a last-minute place on the team, just a few days before high school got out. From that moment on, everything changed, and I’m almost sure there was some divine intervention …

Over the past few years Italian youngsters have had more opportunities, partly thanks to the work of FIDAF, to go to American high schools and colleges and play football. What advice would you give to youngsters trying to follow their dream like you did?

I’m very happy with how American football is growing in Italy, and the only thing I’d like to say to Italian youngsters is to keep working hard and give it 100% because there are always opportunities in football to make your dreams come true!

Giorgio, thank you for taking time out to talk to us. We wish you the best of luck for the rest of the season and look forward to seeing you in Italy, hopefully at one of our games or football events.

Knock on wood. Thanks! I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank you all from the bottom of heart for your amazing support. God willing, OUR story will continue!

Maybe we even brought Giorgio Tavecchio some good luck because just a few hours after this interview, he learned that he is staying in his role until at least the end of the season. It’s official, as you can read in this article (http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/11/28/janikowski-wont-play-for-raiders-this-year-future-uncertain/): Sebastian Janikowski is to end his season on injured reserve. This means things could get very interesting for our man from Milan over the next few seasons.

Thanks Giorgio, and good luck in everything you do!

AFI
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