Wisconsin– ranked No. 9 in the preseason AP college football poll, with a favorable schedule that features only one top-25 opponent and 15 starters returning to a veteran squad – is set to have a pretty good year. Picked almost unanimously to win the Big Ten West Division, the Badgers should contend for the conference championship and could then find themselves in the four-team College Football Playoff for the first time, challenging for a National Championship.
Wisconsin is talented, deep and experienced on offense and defense, which should be enough for at least 10 wins, and especially some blowouts early during the nonconference portion of the schedule. But, if you’re like me, you’re hoping for a few close contests, too, because you cherish any chance to see the most endearingly eccentric, delightfully entertaining and goofily cool player on the team – perhaps in the country – decide a big game with his big right leg, as well as his epic dance moves.
Rafael Gaglianone is the Badgers’ redshirt junior kicker. He’s also, quite possibly, the heart and soul of the team – or, at least, the corpulent belly of the special teams. The Brazilian-born, Tennessee-bred Gaglianone, who’s listed at 5-foot-11, 232 pounds, is must-see television, a must-follow on social media and arguably the greatest kicker in program history.
For me, the best thing about Wisconsin football being back – the Badgers kick off the 2017 season Friday night against Utah State at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, favored by 27.5 points – is getting to watch Gaglianone kick long field goals and shimmy and shake in celebration, with his (less-pronounced-but-still-present) gut hanging out of his uniform.
For his career, Gaglianone is 44 for 57 on field goals (77.2 percent) and 109 for 111 on PATs (98.2 percent), the best-ever mark among Wisconsin kickers. As a freshman, he converted 14 straight field goals, a Badgers record. He has four game-winning field goals, most in school history, including two in bowl games and one against No. 5 LSU in the season opener at Lambeau Field last year.
Gaglianone made 7 of his first 8 field goal attempts in 2016, before a back injury that eventually required surgery derailed his season. He said in spring practice and reiterated over the summer that he’s fully healthy, feels good and is ready to perform at a high level in 2017. He’s talked during the offseason about trusting his body and his ability again, which is huge at the crucially mental position of kicker, and he's mentioned the responsibility of being an upperclassman leader now. Presumably, Gags has his groove back.
If everything goes as expected, the Badgers won’t play a game that’s close until Sept. 30, the Big Ten opener at home against Northwestern. The next week, on the road at Nebraska, is the other daunting task on the schedule. Until then, Wisconsin coaches will hopefully give him the opportunity to attempt 75-yard field goals just for fun and practice; once the conference contests begin, though, Gaglianone will be an integral player, one capable of deciding important games in clutch moments.
The Badgers’ last six games against Big Ten West rivals Nebraska and Iowa have been decided by an average of only 7.8 points; six of their 14 games in 2016 were decided by a touchdown or less. Having a dependable kicker is critical.
But none of that is why I love him, and it’s not why you love him, either. We love him because he’s kind of fat – though he appears to have slimmed down a bit this season – and he’s a great, hilarious dancer; we love his BMOC social-media persona and his special-teams unit’s #squadgoals.
We wish you well this season, Rafael Gaglianone (pronounced, "HA-fy-el GAH-glee-ah-no-nee"). On, kickers and on, Wisconsin.
Not only one of the best kickers in the B1G, but he's got one of the best GIF games, too. Can't wait for @rafagaglianone to be back. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/XG0TIveTRA — Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) July 14, 2017
I also kind of love him for his soccer skills (shout-out, shared Neymar love).
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.