BY ANDY BAGGOT
MADISON, Wis. — To appreciate why Paul Chryst has such a soft spot in his heart for Rafael Gaglianone you must know their shared history.
Long before Chryst became the Wisconsin football coach, he was a positional Swiss Army knife for the Badgers in the mid-1980s. In addition to taking snaps at quarterback, tight end and linebacker during his college career, he was the holder on special teams, so he lived the mood swings of kickers first hand.
Chryst tapped into the euphoria: He was there to help former roommate Todd Gregoire set the program mark for most career field goals with 65 in 1987 and Rich Thompson embark on his record-setting career a season later.
Chryst also endured the agony: He was literally in the middle of things when Robb Mehring tied a UW standard by missing all five field goals he attempted during a game vs. Minnesota in 1988.
So Chryst embarked on his coaching journey in 1989 with a unique appreciation for the world of placekickers and what makes them tick.
It’s not a surprise then to hear Chryst speak so fondly of Gaglianone, the senior kicking specialist from Sao Paulo, Brazil, by way of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“I love that guy,” Chryst said. “I think everyone on this team does.”
There are a host of reasons to be sure, but Chryst kept it simple.
“I think he’s a really good teammate,” he said.
Personality & Production Appreciate Rafael Gaglianone as much as we do? This week’s Varsity Magazine is a must-read. 💻📱 http://go.wisc.edu/varsity-9-3
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) September 13, 2018
Gaglianone is equal parts friendly, chill, witty, funny, spirited and genuine. He never seems like he’s in a hurry. He never seems as though he’s stressed. He never seems to be out of sorts.
Watch the Badgers at practice or see them interact with one another in the locker room and you notice that Gaglianone is almost always part of a conversation.
Senior inside linebacker and co-captain T.J. Edwards has roomed with Gaglianone since their first day on campus together in 2014.
Gaglianone showed up at the Regent Apartments sporting a tank top, surfer shorts, flip-flops and dark flowing locks, a longboard under his arm and a big grin on his face.
Edwards, from Lake Villa, Illinois, initially wondered what he was getting into with a kicker for a roommate. But their friendship grew playing the FIFA soccer video game and has endured through five years, three addresses and extended in-season visits from Gaglianone’s family, including one now.
“He’s hard not to love,” Edwards said of his friend. “He’s just a good dude.”
Senior nose guard Olive Sagapolu said he and senior guard Micah Kapoi bonded with Gaglianone over their “minority” status as geographical outsiders, a reference to their far-flung homes: Sagapolu is from Pago Pago, American Samoa, and Kapoi is from Kapolei, Hawaii.
Sagapolu couldn’t put his finger on what makes Gaglianone so endearing, but gave it a noble shot.
“It’s just the way the guy is, his personality,” Sagapolu said. “I don’t know what it is, but he just has that thing that helps everyone around him.”
Gaglianone, 23, said he’s all about creating camaraderie, being happy and being himself.
“Owning who I am,” he said.
That approach can be traced to Gaglianone’s first college field goal, a 51-yarder during the 2014 season-opener with LSU that introduced his trademark celebratory shimmy.
“They saw my happiness and it just kind of carried over,” he said of his teammates.
That has evolved to Gaglianone being serenaded with “Olé, olé, olé, olé” every time he converts a field goal at Camp Randall Stadium.
“The fans, they enjoy people who show emotions and have fun out there,” he said. “We work so hard to get to that point we might as well have fun doing it.”
Make no mistake, some of the affection from UW coaches and teammates is rooted in the fact Gaglianone does his job with steadfast reliability.
“No question about it,” Chryst said.
Gaglianone needs three field goals to surpass Gregoire and become the program record-holder, having converted 80.8 percent of his career attempts (63-for-78) along the way to rank second on the all-time list at Wisconsin.
He’s on a streak of 13 straight made field goals, leaving him one shy of again tying the school record for consecutive conversions – a mark first set by Vitaly Pisetsky in 1999 that Gaglianone matched by connecting on the final 14 kicks of his freshman season in 2014.
He also has converted 128 consecutive extra points, long ago surpassing the previous UW record of 89 straight PATs set by Taylor Mehlhaff – a first-team All-American who is now a quality control assistant for the Badgers.
Gaglianone has made four game-winning kicks, the most in school history; connected on three field goals of 50 yards or longer, tied for the most at UW; and made 93.4 percent of his kick attempts overall — field goals and PATs — in his career (241-for-258).
“That’s definitely a big part of why he’s such a huge voice on this team,” Edwards said, “because he’s so reliable and consistent.”
Chryst has coached at every level — high school to small college to the Canadian Football League to the NFL, a variety of duties at each stop — but can’t recall having a kicker play such a prominent role in team chemistry as Gaglianone.
“He’s going to find the good in something and he’s going to maximize it,” Chryst said.
“His approach to being one of the guys is phenomenal,” Edwards said of Gaglianone. “His character, his comedy, what he brings to this team is unlike any other.”
Gaglianone, listed at 5-foot-11 and 237 pounds, knows and accepts the fact he’s not built like Adonis. He catches his share of grief as a result, but he’s lightning-quick to rebut in a creative, non-threatening way.
“A lot of people love to mess around with him,” Sagapolu said.
“He can take it very well,” Edwards said of Gaglianone, “but he can dish it out just like that. That’s what we love about him and that’s why you can joke with him so much because he gets it.”
Not everyone on the Wisconsin roster can tweak Chryst to his face — his public persona is a popular topic — but Gaglianone will.
“He’s quick-witted,” Chryst said with an appreciative smile.
“They get into some good ones,” Edwards said of Gaglianone and Chryst.
“Me and Coach Chryst have had a good relationship since day one,” Gaglianone said. “He understood what kind of a player I was. Him being a player’s coach, he kind of created that bond.
“He always encourages you to be yourself. That’s what I do and that’s what he likes about me.”
The fact Chryst and Gaglianone experienced similar traumas during their college careers — abrupt head coaching changes and an unexpected death in their football families — no doubt fortifies their bond.
Chryst was a freshman in April of 1986 when Wisconsin coach Dave McClain died of a heart attack. Chryst finished out his college career playing for interim coach Jim Hilles and Don Morton, who won six games in three seasons before being fired.
Gaglianone, meanwhile, came to Madison in 2014 to play for Gary Andersen, who abruptly left at the end of the season to take over at Oregon State. That opened the door for Chryst to leave Pittsburgh and become the coach at his alma mater.
In July of 2016, Gaglianone lost two good friends, Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and Michigan State punter Mike Sadler, in a car crash near Waukesha. The three had been taking part in a summer kicking camp.
To honor Foltz, Gaglianone switched his jersey number from 10 to 27.
“Some of his uniqueness I find fascinating,” Chryst said of Gaglianone. “You admire his journey.”
Gaglianone grew up playing and loving soccer, leaving home when he was 15 to enroll at Baylor High School in Chattanooga and pursue a college opportunity like his older brother, Thiago, did at California Lutheran.
Gaglianone played soccer, helping Baylor to a state title as a sophomore, but also found a calling on the football field. That brought him to Wisconsin, where he’s made at least one field goal in 40 of 45 career games, including 21 straight dating back to 2015, and has had 28 perfect outings where he’s converted all his field goals and PATs.
Gaglianone was granted a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA after back surgery ended his 2016 season after three games.
There’s nothing personal in the UW record book that Gaglianone cares about right now.
“When I’m older and looking back on my career there will be,” he said. “But as of right now I’m just trying to help the team as much as I can.
“I got to where I got here by putting the team first and that’s kind of my mentality. As long as I’m helping my team, I’m happy with what I’m doing.”
What about the NFL?
“As long as I keep doing what I’m doing, I don’t see why not,” Gaglianone said. “I’ve just got to focus on the right now.”
Listen closely during pregame introductions at Camp Randall and you’ll hear Gaglianone invariably get the loudest reaction from fans. That popularity has roots back to his freshman year when he and Edwards would take the bus from the DeJope Residence Hall to the State Street area.
“Someone would notice him,” Edwards said.
“Are you Haff?” they would ask.
“I was star struck my whole freshman year,” Edwards said. “I was like, ‘This dude’s a big deal.’
“It got to a point where it was every time, every weekend, every time we’d go out. It was unreal.”
After a while, Edwards would just cut to the chase and point Gaglianone out to the whole bus.
“Olé, olé, olé, olé,” was the sing-song response.
Gaglianone is on track to graduate this year with a degree in life sciences communication. The idea makes his parents, Eduardo and Marta, feel a sense of pride.
“I’m glad he came to Wisconsin,” Eduardo said. “He’s changed a lot. It’s been so good for Rafael.
“He didn’t know much about football, but he learned to kick here and it changed his world, you know?”
Excited to share what the beautiful game means to me!!
— Rafael Gaglianone (@rafagaglianone) July 1, 2018
Gaglianone’s parents are spending the first three weeks of the UW season living with Rafael and Edwards at their campus apartment near the Kohl Center.
“I’m so thankful to get that family time,” Rafael said. “I owe so much of the life I get to live here to them and the sacrifices they made when I was younger.
“To see their faces in the stadium, to be able to have dinner with them and talk about my day, it just puts it all together for me.”
Eduardo and Marta will be joined for the BYU game by Thiago and two friends from Brazil.
Where will everyone sleep?
“It’s like a mama’s heart,” Rafael said, smiling. “It’s always got a place for one more. We just always find a way.”
While the Badgers were on the field warming up for their game with New Mexico on Sept. 8, Eduardo scanned the field from Section G talking about his son.
What’s it like seeing how the fans react to Rafael?
“It’s incredible,” he said. “It’s hard to explain. It’s a really good feeling seeing how many people like him. It’s a good vibration for him.
“People say his name and talk to me in the streets. It’s so nice.”
Why do people in Madison like his son so much?
“Because he’s happy and he shows his skills,” Eduardo said. “Nice guy. Happy. That’s Rafael.”