GREEN BAY, Wis. — New Green Bay Packers kicker Giorgio Tavecchio had no interest in football growing up. He didn’t watch it and he certainly didn’t play it. Even a decade after moving to the United States, the Italian-born Tavecchio was still irritated by the sport as he reached his early teenage years.
“To be honest, and I hate to say it, but I was the most anti-football kid,” Tavecchio told FOXSportsWisconsin.com. “In middle school, I got mad because football kids would get in the way of my soccer game. On Sundays, when other American kids watched NFL games, I was watching the Italian International Soccer channel.”
Tavecchio never lived in one place for very long during his childhood. His mother’s job with the United States government — which he could not disclose the specifics of due to the private nature of the position — had her moving frequently. Tavecchio was born in Milan, Italy, moved to Connecticut at age 4, soon went back to Italy, then on to California and later to Washington D.C. before eventually settling in California permanently.
But, no matter where he went, all of his friends played football, not soccer. Once Tavecchio was in his sophomore year of high school, one of those friends was finally able to convince him to give football a try.
“I only showed up for the football team because they needed a kicker,” Tavecchio said. “I told my mom that my buddy asked me to kick, and she said, ‘You’re in America, why don’t you try an American sport?’ So I did.”
When Tavecchio stepped on the football field that day at age 15, he didn’t fit in too well.
“I went out there in shorts and a soccer t-shirt with indoor soccer shoes on,” Tavecchio said. “Everyone else was in full pads. That was my first time ever kicking a football.”
As soon as his first football practice was over, Tavecchio ran home and went straight to soccer practice wearing the exact same clothes.
After graduating from high school less than three years later, Tavecchio still had no long-term vision of playing football. He was about to continue his soccer career at the collegiate level for the University of California-Davis when once again the game of football pulled him back in.
“At the last minute (before officially beginning work with the UC-Davis soccer team), the football coach from the University of California called; I didn’t even know who the guy was,” Tavecchio said. “Football was so far out of my mind at that point, but I obviously jumped at the chance.”
Only six days after moving in to his on-campus room, Tavecchio was sending the opening kickoff down the field for California’s 2008 season-opener at home against Michigan State.
“I had no business being on the field,” Tavecchio said. “It was crazy how the stars aligned. It had to be divine intervention because there’s no other way to explain it.”
Tavecchio, with the exception of being benched for one game during a slump, was California’s starting kicker for the next four seasons. In that time, he made 48 of his 64 field-goal attempts (75.0 percent) and upped his success rate to a career-best 87 percent as a senior.
Tavecchio went undrafted in 2012 but spent time with the San Francisco 49ers during training camp and preseason. After being released by the 49ers, he moved back in with his mother, father, cat and dog in Moraga, Calif. and tutored social-science students at his alma mater.
“I was trying to keep in touch with teams and stay on the radar,” Tavecchio said. “Unfortunately, there were no bites and no interest at the time. But I kept in shape and feel like I’ve improved a lot since leaving the 49ers. I’ve fine-tuned the things that I was working on.”
Tavecchio’s agent and kicking coach were persistent, though, and continually tried to find another team to give him a chance.
“They were peppering teams on the phone constantly,” Tavecchio said.
Green Bay finally gave in and had Tavecchio in for a tryout in March, where he outperformed two other hopeful kickers.
Now, after signing a three-year, non-guaranteed deal with the Packers last week, Tavecchio has a chance to compete in Green Bay’s training camp in an effort to unseat Mason Crosby as the team’s kicker. Crosby is coming off a 2012 season in which he made only 21 of 33 field goals (63.3 percent), the worst mark in the NFL.
Despite Crosby’s struggles, Tavecchio stood up for his new teammate, even though that’s the job he’s hoping to win.
“Maybe the stats weren’t where they wanted them to be, but stats can lie a little bit in terms of what actually happened last year,” Tavecchio said. “For me, regardless of where the opportunity is, whatever the dynamic of the opportunity is, I have the same approach mentally. And that is to give it my best and do whatever I can do to pour myself into this adventure.
“I’m glad they (the Packers) saw something they liked, and I can’t tell you how thankful I am and how fortunate I feel to live my dream a little longer.”