Dec. 22, 2011
By Tim Miguel - Cal Athletic Communications
When Cal football practice ends, all of the Golden Bears come off the field, with a look of exhaustion from a hard day's work on the gridiron. There is, however, one Bear who always trots off the field smiling from ear to ear regardless of how tired he is - senior placekicker Giorgio Tavecchio.
Tavecchio, who is known amongst his teammates and coaches as very happy-go-lucky and always positive, has seen drastic improvement in his kicking game in 2011. He went from finishing sixth in the conference in both field goals made and field goal percentage last year to becoming the first Cal player to ever lead the conference in both categories in 2011.
If you ask him how it feels to achieve such a one-year turnaround, Tavecchio will tell you that his motivation is not about his own personal success nearly as much as he does it for his teammates and coaches who supported him through the good times and the bad times.
"The biggest reward is seeing my smiling teammates," Tavecchio said. "That's the joy in it for me, to see my teammates happy. As much as it's an individual aspect of the game, I feel indebted to my teammates for being there with me through the successes and the hard times. The personal accolades are great and I'm proud of how I've executed, but when I see my smiling teammates and I know that I contributed to the team victory, that is worth much more than any personal accolade."
During the regular season, Tavecchio nailed 19 of his 22 attempts (86.4%), including nailing seven of his tries from the 30-39 yard range. Despite having some issues with extra points, Tavecchio was very reliable when the Bears needed him in 2011.
He played a huge role in the Bears' 47-38 victory in the regular season finale at Arizona State. Tavecchio was good on a couple critical field goals in the fourth quarter to clinch the game, and a winning season, for Cal. Earlier this year at Oregon, he booted three first half field goals including a career-long 54-yarder that was one yard shy of the school record, as well as the longest in the Pac-12 and tied for eighth-longest in the nation.
The success against Oregon meant a lot to Tavecchio after one of his tougher moments at Cal happened in 2010 when then top-ranked Oregon narrowly escaped Berkeley with a 15-13 win. The Bears might have won the game if Tavecchio didn't get a false start penalty on a field goal try that he originally made but then missed after the penalty. Instead of sulking, Tavecchio used that dark time to help strengthen him for brighter times in the future.
"In my mind it's completely in the past," Tavecchio said. "In the offseason, I used that a lot as motivation. I learned a lot from that experience. Off the field, with being shaken to the core, I got a lot of flak for that, and that's alright, everybody has their own opinions and I didn't do my job. Those who stuck with me through that time of trial were my family, my teammates and the coaches. Those are the people I hold really dear to me. The worst thing you can do is sit there and sulk. You have to continue moving on. As a kicker, you have to have a short-term memory. I felt really supported by everyone in this organization. That support was critical for me to continue improving. The lessons I learned from that night were vital to me off the field."
Tavecchio credits absolute mental focus to his success this season. More than perfecting the physical craft of kicking, his goal was to block out everything going on around him every single time he steps on the field. He kicks every kick the same way regardless of the situation.
His specialist coach Jeff Genyk had a lot to do with preaching this philosophy to Tavecchio.
"Giorgio has really improved his ability to focus on the task at hand and the execution, and not be too caught up in the external environment," Genyk said. "He really worked hard on his ability to be repeatable with his process. Every PAT and field goal was the same over and over again. He also spent a lot of time doing a lot of visualization. Even within the framework of the game, you'd often see him with his eyes closed, just seeing the type of execution that he was hoping for. Giorgio also worked on watching every practice kick. Making a still frame of every practice kick and then comparing them, along with journaling about his kicks. There was a lot of work behind the scenes for him to obtain the results that he did."
When it comes to the mechanics on the field, Genyk and the rest of the Cal coaching staff decided to make a small change that ended up paying off big time. Last year's holder backup quarterback Brock Mansion was replaced with Tavecchio's roommate and close friend, senior punter Bryan Anger. The substitution has paid off better than anyone probably thought. The connection, trust and bond Tavecchio and Anger share took a lot of pressure off of Tavecchio and made him much more relaxed when it came time to kick.
"Bryan has done a fantastic job holding," Tavecchio said. "Not to say that Brock didn't do a good job. He was a fantastic holder, as well, but to just have that little extra bond with Bryan, being his roommate. When he's out there, I just feel comfortable. We have that deep bond. He's very athletic in everything he does. When he is so perfect throughout the offseason, into fall camp and the beginning of the season, I build off that confidence. I build off that trust with him. I know the ball is going to be right where I expect it to be."
Anger said he had a feeling before the season even began that Tavecchio, or George as he calls him, would have a solid campaign.
"I remember the last practice before the Fresno State game, we went back to 55 yards out, through the wind," Anger recalled. "We had it set up for a 52-yard field goal and I told him, let's go 55. I told coach Tedford, and we backed it up to 55. George said, `I got this.' He hit it right down the middle. Ever since the beginning of the season, it's been the same."
On Dec. 28 at the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl in San Diego against Texas, Cal fans will have one last opportunity to see the carefree Tavecchio run out onto the field and showcase his famed "Tavecchio Torque," that little twist he does before each and every kick.
Hopefully for Cal fans, they'll get to see him kick an important field goal, possibly a game winner. Regardless, when Tavecchio runs off the field for the final time he will do it the same way he has always ran onto it - with a smile on his face.