Raiders Kicker Giorgio Tavecchio
Nestled up next to the University of California, Berkeley campus is a coffee shop, and it's very much the type of artisanal coffee house one would associate with a university like Cal that's synonymous with culture and self-expression.
On this sunny summer afternoon, the outdoor seating area at the coffee house is bustling. It's filled with students working on group projects, along with local patrons doing their daily crossword puzzles and reading a variety of books. Mixed in seamlessly with the rest of the patrons is Oakland Raiders kicker Giorgio Tavecchio; a Cal alumnus himself, donning a striped polo shirt and gray shorts, ordering a cappuccino on a beautiful Northern California Day.
Tavecchio seems at home here – at ease, as he goes up to the counter and orders his cup of coffee in fluent Spanish – and in many ways, he is home.
During his sophomore season of college, Tavecchio commuted to school from his family home in Moraga, Calif., and Caffé Strada become a second home for him; it's a space that has continued to hold a special place in his heart, even after graduation.
"It just became a space where I felt I could go and do anything – live, love, laugh, learn, a little bit of everything," Tavecchio said when asked about the coffee shop. "The coffee itself isn't half bad either – a nice cappuccino goes a long way."
As he sits down at a table on the outside balcony, Tavecchio begins talking about his life's journey, and what a journey it has been so far. At just 25 years old, his list of accomplishments is impressive, but his ultimate dream still lies in front of him.
He wants to be a starting NFL placekicker, and he's willing to do whatever it takes to get there and complete this part of his very dynamic life's journey.
Giorgio's football career hasn't been "normal" by many metrics, but that's fine for the Italian kicker – he doesn't see himself as a "normal" football player either.
Born in Milan, Tavecchio speaks four languages, has a variety of interests ranging from philosophy and literature to Argentine tango, and might be the only person on the planet that has both Polish folk techno and ABBA on his iPod.
Tavecchio has an innate desire to learn – whether it be the nuances of kicking, or the philosophical makeup of athletes, Giorgio wants to learn it all.
"I consider myself very fortunate for being raised in the way I was," Tavecchio said. "My family moved around a lot, but my parents always focused on where my brother and I would have the best place to live, whether it was soccer teams or schools, and I was brought up to respect others and other cultures and other ways of life, such that it spurned that curiosity. There's a genuine curiosity that I think I've been blessed with to look for answers – maybe to rhetorical questions – but just the experience of life."
The term that comes to mind when talking with Tavecchio about life and philosophy as he sips on his cappuccino is "renaissance man," and while it's a term that he gently laughs off, it's one that fits.
Tavecchio doesn't own a smartphone – he prefers to have his conversations face to face – and his wide-ranging set of interests make him inherently different than many NFL players.
"I don't think I fit the stereotype of what one might imagine is an NFL football player, but that's the beauty of it," Tavecchio said. "Half the time people don't believe me, but I don't care. I know that is part of my experience. I know this part of my life and maybe not having that stereotype, physically speaking, I'm not as bulked up as everybody else. It allows me to have a different kind of interaction, that when whoever I'm interacting with finds out about football it changes their perspective."
Before Tavecchio began his college career in Berkeley, he was actually committed to play soccer at UC Davis, but a last-second call changed his collegiate commitment and the direction of his professional life. Over the course of the 46 games he appeared in as a Golden Bear, Tavecchio scored 256 points – which ranks fifth on the university's all-time scoring list – connecting on 75 percent of his field goal attempts in the process. However, what his time in Berkeley really did was foster a lifelong passion for the game of football, placekicking in particular.
"It's interesting, because as a kid I was so passionate about soccer; that's all I would think about," Tavecchio said. "I'd go home and kick the soccer ball around. My mother would be so pissed off because we'd have these little mini soccer balls [and] break everything in the house. Now, yes, I watch the Euro [Cup], yes I watch the Copá America, but I'm very much in the football world. I've jumped in head first and really come to love this craft of placekicking. I've come to love the experience of being in a football locker room, on the football field in front of 70,000 people, and to me it's an art. It's a science. You get to be part of something that's truly bigger than yourself, maybe even the greatest team game ever invented. That is what has hook, line, and sunk me to this football world."
"This football world," as Tavecchio describes it, has sent the Italian kicker on quite a journey over the past several years since his college playing days ended, from San Francisco, to Detroit, to most recently Oakland, and while he hasn't yet found a permanent football home, he looks at each of his stops as a learning experience, and just another stop on his journey.
"I can't look back on this journey without one word coming to mind, and that's just gratitude," he said. "I'm just a kid from nowhere, man. I shouldn't have made it to Cal the way it worked out as a last-minute recruit. I can't tell you how many times I had good, bad, ugly kicks in college. Really, for me, this is a journey. Sure, I'm working hard, I believe I belong in the NFL. I've proven myself, and I just think I need a chance to really show it when it all counts but when I look back, and see the process that I've experienced on an emotional level, a personal level, I think I've really grown within this structure of football, within the specific dynamics of being a placekicker, within the very unique challenges of breaking into the NFL business."
And Tavecchio has certainly been presented with his fair share of challenges throughout his brief NFL career. Though he's had the opportunity to kick for a trio of teams in the preseason, he has yet to find a team to go through the regular season with, and while at times the constant uncertainty can be frustrating, he remains positive and upbeat when discussing his career.
"The line separating NFL starter and kid sitting at Caffe Strada is tiny, and for me, just having a chance to straddle that line, to compete for a chance, is a blessing in itself," Tavecchio said. "Like I said, if I'm honest with the journey and I'm genuine with what I experience, I'm going to grow. I have the belief that if I continue to grow and I'll be doing special things in the NFL."
Tavecchio knows exactly what he wants. He wants to be one of the 32 kickers in the NFL, and he's not just sitting by idly, hoping a chance falls in his lap – he's actively pursuing opportunities and doing everything in his power to ensure that his dream comes to fruition.
Giorgio Tavecchio is organized. He likes structure and he likes discipline, so it's no surprise that during the regular season he meticulously tracks each of the 32 NFL placekickers in an Excel spreadsheet he keeps on his computer, making note of their makes, misses, and a variety of other statistics.
So what is he looking to gain as he delves into these stats? It can be something as big as an impending opportunity, or something as small as a phone call.
"At the beginning of the week, after the week of games is over, I just go through the NFL website and look up statistics, and just keep a running tab on how everyone is doing," Tavecchio explained. "Statistically, this is a results-based business, so if I start to track and things aren't going well unfortunately for someone, then I can kind of keep an eye on maybe they're going to bring some kickers in. How do I get on that short list? Who do I have to call? Who do I have my agent call? Just ways of directing my attention to teams that maybe, could be, in the market."
While there are a limited number of placekicking jobs in the NFL – a harsh reality Tavecchio knows well – when he's going through his statistical tracking each week, he never roots for his fellow kickers to fail.
"I don't like to see kickers fail," Tavecchio said, the sincerity evident in his voice. "I know that sounds odd because in essence that could open up a job for myself, but for me this has been a special journey, like I keep saying. I keep referencing that. I feel like it's a fraternity, and when I see the ball flying through the pipes that's a very beautiful thing to see, so whether it's me or somebody else, I like to see kickers succeed."
While Tavecchio continues to chase down the dream of kicking in the NFL, there are bills to pay and commitments to honor, so during the regular season, the 25-year-old kicker has picked up a variety of jobs, ranging from tutoring, to dabbling in real estate, as well as helping out with his parent's furniture business. That's all in addition to his rigorous year-round football training.
"I try to get some real-world experiences, but without shirking the responsibilities to train for football, try to continue to grow as a kicker, learn from whatever the experiences were in the previous offseason and training camp, and continue to stoke the fires of love and passion for this game that has kept me going this far." Tavecchio said. "That is coupled with pretty intense and diligent and disciplined training – lifting three times a week, kicking three times a week, trying to stay ready for that phone call."
In discussing his life's arc – from Italy, to Berkeley, to his numerous NFL stops – Giorgio Tavecchio constantly brings up one word; gratitude.
Gratitude with the journey, gratitude with the chances he's been given, and now, gratitude for the Silver and Black.
"There are very few chances given out, and as soon as the Raiders called these past couple of years – maybe it's just because I'm a lefty, maybe they like my curly hair, I don't know – they made me feel like they wanted me back," he said. "It's very nice to get a chance to stay in this business. It's very nice to be around someone like [Sebastian] Janikowski. It's awesome to be around a special locker room that continues to grow, especially as the seeds of optimism and belief that was planted last year [are] cultivated more and more with work in the offseason, and with more and more success on the field."
In addition to his overall gratitude that he's entering his third offseason with the organization, special teams coordinator Brad Seely in particular sits in high esteem with Tavecchio.
"I owe a lot to him," Tavecchio said when asked about Seely. "He was the one that first signed me out of college. Had he not given me a chance with the [San Francisco] 49ers, I don't know if I would even be having this conversation. He's a man that I respect very much. He's very honest, very straightforward, very matter-of-fact. I've enjoyed learning from him – his assistant Tracy Smith as well – very witty guy as well. It's a great atmosphere to be a part of."
Tavecchio is an affable guy; very pleasant to deal and converse with, but he's very clearheaded and knows precisely what he wants. He wants to be an NFL kicker, and while that part of his dream hasn't materialized yet, there's an unquestioned passion in his voice when he talks about his professional aspirations.
"When I'm kicking, sometimes I feel like I'm Michelangelo and the football is my paintbrush and the uprights are my canvas," he explained. "When you feel like that on the field and when it goes your way, you hit a nice kick, you win the game, or you help your team win the game, it's cathartic. It's a really special feeling. It's a special space that I think is very difficult to replicate in life, which is why I'm chasing it down as much as I can right now."
Tavecchio doesn't like to look too far ahead in the future. He knows that he's currently behind one of the longest-tenured kickers with one of the strongest legs in Sebastian Janikowski as he enters Training Camp 2016. However, the preseason provides an excellent opportunity for him to continue to add to his impressive game tape, and he just needs one team to like what it sees. He likes to focus on only what he can control, but he knows that his journey is far from over, and he can't wait for the next chapter to begin, and to share it with the people he cares about – maybe discussing it over a cup of coffee.
"It's all a beautiful life," Tavecchio said. "It's a crazy world out there and I'm just curious about it. I don't have any shame, so I'm open to asking questions and starting conversations and on a day like this, a nice cup of coffee, you can have some good conversations."