One of the surprise stars of Week 1 in the NFL was an 27-year-old kicker from Italy who finally made it in the NFL thanks to a unique skill

Even before the Raiders came to have one of the most high-octane offenses in the league, there was one position every member of Raider Nation could count on thanks to the reliable leg of Sebastian Janikowski.

The Raiders powerful kicker has been with the organisation for the entirety of his career after being taken in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft. This year however, Janikowski finds himself sidelined with a back injury to start the season, so when the Raiders lined up for a 52-yard attempt against the Titans on Sunday, there was a new face (and leg), behind the ball.

That leg belonged to Giorgio Tavecchio, a 27-year-old from Italy who has been a regular feature of training camps and preseason rosters around the league but never got the chance to put his boot to use in a regular season game until Sunday. He made the most of his opportunity, going four-for-four on field goal attempts including two 52-yard kicks that sailed through the uprights with ease, as well as being perfect for the Raiders on extra-point attempts.

Tavecchio’s journey to the NFL was a long one. The Bay Area-native almost decided to pursue a sporting career in soccer before getting a late invite to try out as a kicker as a walk-on at Cal. After graduating in 2012, Tavecchio spent training camp and preseason stints with the 49ers, Packers, and Lions in previous years before landing with the Raiders this season.

And while he’s an impressive kicker independent of anything else, one of Tavecchio’s defining traits makes him a unique asset to the Raiders — like Janikowski, Tavecchio is left-footed. Lefty kickers are somewhat rare across the league, and having Tavecchio as a backup means that the special teams unit does not have to flip its entire playbook to accommodate a righty. Instead, line, long snapper, and holder alike can all stick to their gameplan while Tavecchio tries to split the uprights.

Raiders special teams coach Brad Seely was the first man to give Tavecchio an NFL opportunity while working with the 49ers and their lefty kicker David Akers. While he didn’t make the cut that year, Tavecchio remained on Seely’s radar and when Janikowski remained a question mark as the season grew near, Tavecchio got the call.

After his impressive debut, Tavecchio was given the game ball by head coach Jack Del Rio. “I’ve dreamed for years about this moment,” Tavecchio said after receiving the honour. “And it means so much that I get to share it with you.”

With Janikowski on the IR and in the last year of his current contract, it’s possible that Tavecchio is the next franchise kicker for the Raiders. If he keeps making 50-yard attempts look as easy as he did on Sunday, he’s well on his way.

The game ball goes to Giorgio. What a debut.

Watch his speech:
— OAKLAND RAIDERS (@RAIDERS) September 10, 2017

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