ALAMEDA, Calif. – Giorgio Tavecchio was ready to give up his dreams of kicking in the NFL and take a business job in London.
The pain of being cut six times without ever playing an NFL game had taken its toll mentally on Tavecchio and he was ready to move on before the Oakland Raiders gave him a call to come to camp for a fourth straight year as the backup to Sebastian Janikowski.
After talking the situation over with Raiders special teams coach Brad Seely, Tavecchio decided to give it a final shot.
“We kind of talked through the pingpong battle going on in my head and in my heart. You just have to kind of follow your heart,” Tavecchio said Wednesday. “I knew what my heart wanted. Obviously, you want to make it. … You give a lot of yourself. When you’re rejected so many times, it takes a lot to put yourself back out there.”
There are no regrets now after a back injury to Janikowski gave Tavecchio his first shot in a game and he made the most of it by becoming the first player in NFL history to kick two field goals of at least 50 yards in his debut.
Tavecchio added two other field goals and a pair of extra points to earn the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week award.
“Absolutely amazing. Some of these things are like a movie, you know?” quarterback Derek Carr said. “Talk about a guy that deserves everything that’s coming his way; just a good person, that’s kind of the theme around here. He’s a good dude and he works his tail off.”
It’s been quite a journey for Tavecchio to arrive at NFL fame. Born in Milan, Italy, to an American mother and Italian father, Tavecchio came to the United States as a child and ended up in the Bay Area town of Moraga.
Consistent with his Italian roots, Tavecchio took more to soccer than football but tried place kicking as a sophomore in high school mostly so he could go to the team barbecues. He then was set to play soccer in college at UC Davis but opted to go to California when he got a chance to walk-on as a football player.
After four years at Cal, Tavecchio began his attempt to make the NFL. Seely brought him to San Francisco in 2012 as the backup to David Akers but he never made the team. The next season he signed with Green Bay only to get cut again.
His best chance might have come with Detroit in 2014 but he was beaten out by Nate Freese and joined the Raiders for the final exhibition game. Oakland brought Tavecchio back to camp again in 2015, ‘16 and ‘17 only to cut him each time before the start of the regular season.
“Some people would think it would get easier with getting cut, but it actually got harder,” Tavecchio said. “There were difficult times when you question, ‘Can I keep giving myself in this way only to be dejected again?’ Shakespeare said, ‘It’s better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.’ Sometimes I question that, but again right now, I’m grateful for that. In 20 years, hopefully I’ll look back and say, ‘Whatever happens, I gave it everything.’”
Tavecchio spent his time between camps holding various part-time jobs from real estate, to tutoring, to helping kickers at Cal to working at a tech company in New York this offseason when he got the offer to go to London for a full-time job.
He also kept up with his kicking, working out at his old high school and consulting with former NFL kicker Michael Husted, who was the last kicker other than Janikowski to play a season opener for the Raiders back in 1999.
Tavecchio visited Husted each year in San Diego and worked with him over the phone, on video and through virtual reality to improve his skills. Husted said the biggest issue is the mental aspect, which often takes years to conquer.
“It’s one of those things you almost have to get out of your own way,” Husted said. “Every year, every training camp he’s been able to do that better. You have to have the potential, you have to capitalize on the opportunities when they present themselves and there are very few of those. That’s 50 percent of it. The other 50 percent is luck. You have to be at the right place at the right time. If Janikowski was healthy this wouldn’t have happened.”