Life is Beautiful

As Cal's starting kicker, Giorgio Tavecchio has reason to be happy. Spend five minutes with him and you'll see his happiness is all natural.

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This story almost ended before it started 13 years ago.

A seven-year-old with curly brown hair was leaving school one day in Rome. The expensive car of an Italian soccer player screeched around the corner.

Some people trust that each person's life is dictated by a cosmic plan held in the hands of a higher being. The life of Giorgio Tavecchio could make anyone believe.

The car slammed to a stop, nearly crushing young Giorgio. He tells the story now with a big smile, many years removed from terror of that moment. He wears a smile like other men wear shoes - because they need them to get from one place to another. The simple expression says it all: Cal's junior kicker sees only the good in life because life has been unbelievably kind to him.

Three weeks ago, Tavecchio missed a field goal at the end of practice that doubled the team's number of gassers from four to eight. The players climbed the steps of Memorial Stadium looking like they could taste their lunch coming up, sweating and cursing. But Tavecchio, the source of their pain, was still grinning.

"He's always happy," says kicker Vince D'Amato.

The ups and downs of life tend to disrupt constant happiness, but you wouldn't know it looking at Tavecchio on this mild fall afternoon. He's leaned back against the wooden bench of Caffe Strada, face warm with gratitude toward everyone and everything. This isn't an act; it's the way he is.

He waves to yet another friend passing by on the street and turns back to the question hovering in the air: How are you always so cheerful?

"I realize how lucky I am to be where I am. You go through hardships, but how many millions of kids would die to be in my position? To even go to school here," he says "You have to realize how lucky you are. That's one of the main things I try to do every day: not take anything for granted."

He smiles and gives the pencil in his hand a few quick, caffeinated taps. "And also, I just had a cappuccino."

If there is a force that rules Tavecchio's life, it's a powerful brand of good luck that follows him with heat-seeking determination.

Even the circumstances of his birth are charmed. When his mother Gabriella moved to Italy for work, the furniture she brought along with her was damaged en route. Her family recommended her to a local antique furniture restorer, a young man named Renato Tavecchio who had inherited his father's shop as a teenager.

In the words of their son Giorgio: "I owe my existence to God and antique furniture."

During his youth, the Tavecchios moved around a lot, from Milan to Connecticut to Rome to California to Washington DC. They settled in Moraga, Calif. - Bear territory if there ever was one - just in time for Giorgio's high school years.

At Campolindo High, Tavecchio immersed himself in soccer. He earned first-team All-Diablo Foothill Athletic League honors and took his club team to the State Cup semifinals three straight years. Soccer consumed him, but his life was about to take a different turn.

A friend on the football team told him they needed a kicker and Tavecchio, then a junior, gave it a try. He was good and he liked it, so he stuck with it. At the very least, he figured playing both football and soccer would open more doors for him academically.

"I decided to use sports as a vehicle to get into schools I wanted to get into that I previously hadn't," Tavecchio says. "Davis, I got rejected initially, as I did Cal. I used football and soccer to get into those schools."

The summer before his senior year of high school, Tavecchio found himself driving over the hill into foggy Berkeley where his father was working an on-going restoration project at Fiji, the brick fraternity house on the upper rim of the Piedmont circle. There, Tavecchio helped his father refinish tables and doors. And a few days out of the summer, he attended a Cal kicking camp.

"I performed pretty well," he says, "but I was known more for my short shorts and my curly hair by the coaches than anything."

Summer came and went, and Tavecchio sent his tape to Cal's then-special teams coach Pete Alamar. He waited for months, calling every so often. There was no response, so Tavecchio assumed it was over. In March, he enrolled at UC Davis where he'd been offered a tryout on the soccer team. Winning a spot on the team wasn't a sure thing, but he was happy to be at a good school close to home.

Then, in late May, he got a call from an unknown number. It was Alamar. The Bears had one more walk-on spot available, and they needed a kicker. Football wasn't a guarantee, but one thing was - a place at the University of California at Berkeley. Tavecchio, without hesitation, took it.

The rest is Cal lore. He joined the team three days before the Bears' season opener against Michigan State and won the starting kicking job. On the field, Tavecchio has sometimes struggled to find consistency, but he somehow always seems to find his way back to the top. Today, in all likelihood, he'll handle all kicking duties.

"You know how life is. You never know what will happen," Tavecchio says. "Look at me being here. Two years ago, I would have never in my wildest dreams imagined it."

There's a story about Tavecchio that his teammates love to tell.

"The first day of camp he walks up with his pants rolled up and - he says they weren't - but you could see the girdle hanging out like three inches," punter Bryan Anger says. "He was kicking and I went up to him and said, 'Giorg, I don't want to be a jerk, but this is for your health. Pull your shorts down a little bit so you don't get a lot of crap on the field.'"

"Now, people exaggerate all the time as to the actual length that said shorts were rolled up." Tavecchio says. He pauses for effect, carefully planning the next portion of his case. "I argue it was average length. But I do remember Coach Gregory, the then-defensive coordinator, saying, 'Come on, buddy. Roll those shorts down.'"

All of him is in motion as he defends himself with sweeping hand gestures. He's not annoyed enough to lose the big grin, though. He loves his coaches and teammates, even if they occasionally see him as a novelty item (Exhibit A: Coach Jeff Tedford picking Tavecchio up and tossing him in the air after he hit the game-winning field goal against Arizona State last year).

A player like Tavecchio could breed resentment in others. Most of his teammates have spent their lives working for a starting spot on a Division I roster. This gig practically fell into Tavecchio's lap. No one, though, thinks for a second that he hasn't earned it.

"He's a good leader," D'Amato says. "He leads through his actions. Although he talks a lot, he doesn't really talk about the motivation part. He shows it."

"I didn't grow up in football. As a little kid, I wasn't watching the NFL," Tavecchio says. "Some people see that as a bad thing because maybe I lack motivation. But that motivation is there. When I see my teammates working their butts off on the field and I have my one chance to help them out, I'm going to make sure that when I come off the field after my play, they're smiling."

He loses the perpetual grin briefly as he lets the seriousness of his role wash over him. Then, his face breaks into a big smile again when he's asked to recall his favorite Cal memory.

"When I'm eating with the team," he says, "I look around at all these people with their various backgrounds and all the personalities and all the pathways they took to get here. Where they'll go in the future.

"I think about that stuff all the time. It's just amazing."

He says it like his path isn't amazing and, for a moment, he makes you forget that too. But then you look at him again and, like him, you feel lucky.


Katie Dowd covers football. Contact her at [email protected]

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