MORAGA (KPIX) — Campolindo High School football practice includes a period where the team works on field goals. It’s the best part of the day for Cougars’ kicker Seppi Ortman, especially when he bangs through a long 52-yarder while everyone watches.
52-yards is a significant number for Ortman because its the distance Raiders new placekicker Giorgio Tavecchio hit from last Sunday. And he did it not once, but twice.
“I can only imagine how he felt if I had butterflies in my stomach,” said Ortman who wears a black shirt with silver block lettering that says “TAVECCHIO KNOWS” across the chest.
Ortman is Tavecchio’s focus away from the Raiders football field. The day after Tavecchio became the first NFL kicker to make two 50-plus yard field goals in a debut, he was back at the Campolindo field working with Ortman on his form.
“I wouldn’t be the same kicker I am today without Giorgio,” said Ortman.
It’s been a week since Tavecchio’s life went from part-time coach at his alma mater to the big stage of the NFL. The Raiders signed him to their roster when veteran Sebastian Janikowski got hurt. The move sent Moraga and the Campolindo campus into a mini-frenzy.
Ortman is a soccer player at heart just like Tavecchio was when he started at Campolindo High School. Cougars head coach Kevin Macy says the line of soccer players wanting kick for the football team hasn’t stopped since Tavecchio graduated in 2008.
“We don’t go looking for kickers, they come to us,” said Macy.
Tavecchio had a hunger to play football when he was a sophomore at Campolindo — his interest in the game started in his stomach.
“I went to hit a few kicks so I could go to the team barbecue,” he said. “I heard the food was pretty good.”
Tavecchio might have been a better asset for the team gnawing on ribs than he was making kicks. Macy admits it wasn’t pretty in the beginning.
“His first kick was a PAT that went under the crossbar,” Macy said with a smirk. “When he got to the sidelines the kids were saying, ‘Hey in this sport you have to kick it over the crossbar.’”
Tavecchio learned quick and became a weapon for the Cougars, especially during onside kicks. Macy recalled a game where the opponent took one offensive snap the entire first half because Tavecchio had mastered the art of chipping footballs end-over-end to his teammates.
When Tavecchio’s not kicking, he’s talking. And he’s doing it with typical Italian charisma. Macy wasn’t surprised when he heard Tavecchio was quoting Neal Armstrong, Aristotle and Shakespeare after the game on Sunday.
He’s never been shy. His roots won’t allow it.
“You would have thought he was right off the ship,” Macy said of Tavecchio’s pesonality. “He’d get the hands moving. You almost thought he was doing a caricature of an Italian.”
Tavecchio missed just two kicks his senior season at Campolindo, and decided to turn down a soccer opportunity at UC Davis to play football at Cal as a walk-on.
He ended up winning the job as a freshman and after four years is fifth on the Bears’ all-time scoring list.
He wasn’t drafted, later signed by the 49ers in 2012, but was eventually released. He was signed and waived six other times in five seasons, once by the Packers in 2013. Macy proudly framed the Green Bay jersey in the Campolindo team room as a symbol of persistence.
After every NFL disappointment, Tavecchio returned to the one place that would always accept him — the Campolindo football field.
In Moraga he worked on his kicking mechanics and took an assortment of placeholder type jobs. He dabbled in real estate, tutored students and even worked for a tech company in Manhattan.
But those jobs weren’t Giorgio. “I knew what my heart wanted,” he said.
Tavecchio listened to his heart and finally the phone rang. The Raiders were on the other end.
Until last Sunday, Macy had never sat on his couch and watched one of his guys play in the NFL.
“Everyone watching was in such agony, rooting so hard for this kid. I think the whole community was on pins and needles,” Macy said. “Those kicks were for an opportunity in the NFL.”
Macy might be able to relax during future Sundays. And maybe crack open a Peroni while he’s at it.