A journey of thousands of miles, into different hemispheres, reaches a high point tomorrow night in Charlotte, North Carolina for three Brazilian student athletes at Rabun Gap Nacoochee School.
If you would have told Vinicius Pavoni that his high school football experience would involve Randy Moss, he probably wouldn’t have believed you.
“I would have said you were on drugs if you told me that,” said Pavoni, a senior at Rabun Gap Nacoochee School, who came there from Curitiba, Brazil (Curitba Brown Spiders/UFPR Brown Spiders) in the fall of 2013.
But that is exactly the case this Friday night. Pavoni and his Rabun Gap teammates, which include two other Brazilian athletes, will play in the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association Division III State Championship against Victory Christian, who list the all-time great receiver, Randy Moss, as an Associate Coach on the team.
Pavoni, a center and linebacker, along with fellow Brazilians, all-over-the-field-athlete, Leonardo Tomadon (Curitiba Crocodiles) and star-soccer-player-turned-kicker Luiz Felipe Dantas (Cuiaba) (the D1 soccer recruit notched a school record 38 goals on the pitch this year) are part of a high school roster that is about as culturally diverse as it gets. “This year we have 28 countries represented in our student body and I think we might have 10 countries represented on the roster,” said Rabun Gap Head Coach, Dale Earnhardt. “The team mirrors what our school is all about.”
Earnhardt has taken a Rabun Gap program that didn’t exist a decade ago, to a state championship at almost warp speed.
]The Eagles’ first varsity season was a 2-8 campaign in 2011, and has only improved since then, from 4-6 in 2012, 7-5 and a first playoff berth in 2013, to a 12-2 record and Friday`s championship appearance.
Earnhardt loves the multicultural flavor of his team, “My son (standout junior QB, Dallas Earnhardt) gets to take a snap from a kid from Brazil, and hand off to a kid from the Bahamas.”
“Its challenging because these kids don’t grow up coming through rec ball since 5th grade, but it’s a fun challenge. I love that we have kids who show up with very little experience and let us teach them,” said Earnhardt.
Earnhardt also enjoys the endless possibilities that some of his international athletes present, “Like (Leonardo) Tomadon when you see his video (from Brazil), and know he is talented, but you don’t know where he is gonna fit. He could play about anything.”
Tomadon has fit just about everywhere for the Eagles this season, lining up at safety, outside linebacker, defensive end, running back wide receiver, tight end, and even handling kicking duties when his teammate Dantas was on his goal-scoring sabatical with the soccer team. Coach Earnhardt loves Tomadon’s versatility and he thinks schools at the next level will too. “He is just so valuable and can do so many things. He is truly a ‘football player’. He will help a college (university) team. On top of that, Leo is an outstanding young man,” raved Earnhardt.
Tomadon led the team in tackles until breaking his collarbone in the regular season finale. “Its really hard. I came here (from Brazil) to do exactly this, and I played all of the games except for the playoffs. I am happy because I helped the team to get here, but it’s sad because when we played our best game of the season (last week), I wasn’t with them. My teammates make me happy (and) I am proud of them. I am doing all I can on the sideline to help.”
Although Randy is the Moss name that catches peoples attention, the Moss that Rabun Gap will need to worry about is Thadeus Moss, 6’4″, 240 pound son of the ex-NFL star, who is a sophomore defensive end and tight end for Victory Christian. Moss and running back Josh Allen, a Miami of Ohio commit, will present a stiff challenge to the Rabun Gap defense.
Coach Earnhardt acknowledges the challenge ahead, but feels like his team is prepared for the test. “They have a lot of talent and some of the best players in Charlotte,” he said, but added “We had a great practice yesterday and we are on top of stuff.” The Brazilians appear ready, too
“We feel good,” said Pavoni. “Èven though we are the underdogs, we are prepared and confident,” said Tomadon.
Both Tomadon and Pavoni agreed that having sure-thing Hall of Famer, Moss, on the opposite sideline was something special. Dantas, who had never played or followed football until this season, received a quick football history lesson in an analogy from his Brazilian teammates. “It’s like if Ronaldo was coaching the other team,” they said. “Oh….wow. That is cool,” Dantas responded.
Regardless of the outcome on Friday night, Rabun Gap football looks like it will continue improving, and Coach Earnhardt wants to continue that success with student-athletes from all over the world. “We are looking for kids who want to come and be coached, kids who want to work hard and come in to say “teach me”, said Earnhardt.
Kickoff is at 8 PM at Victory Christian School in Charlotte, North Carolina. The game will be broadcast locally on Time Warner Cable.
Student athletes in Brazil interested in studying and playing football in the U.S. can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about opportunities.
Randy Moss brings a new level of intensity to the Victory Christian football team.