D'Amato Comes Full Circle

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By Ted Lee
Posted Nov 16, 2012
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2014 BearInsider.com


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Vince D'Amato - photo by Michael Pimentel (GoldenBearSports.com)

In the world of sports, there are winners and losers and perceptions shove people one way or another into the Beavis and Butthead dichotomy of where everything is either cool or sucks.

It's a place where there's little room for patience, and fantasy leagues have made it easier to think of players as interchangeable and even disposable, it's no surprise that after kicker Vincenzo D'Amato missed three field goals against Ohio State – that the baying mobs were howling for either a new kicker or for the Cal football team to go for it on fourth down for the rest of the season.†

And while you're generally viewed as being only as good as your last game, behind it all there's months of practice, hours of studying technique and working on concentration, years of overcoming obstacles, and darned if three games after waiting two years for an opportunity, D'Amato was going to think it was the end of the line for him.

Two months later, everything's changed.

Headed into the season finale against Oregon State, D'Amato's made 16 of 23 on field goals, including a 52-yarder against Washington State. In addition, of his 56 kickoffs, he's had 18 touchbacks which has been a welcome sight for a team that's had trouble getting depth on its kickoffs in recent years. The season started off roughly for D'Amato when he made just four of †first eight field goals attempts, he's gone on to make 11 straight field goals before missing his third attempt against Washington.

For the season he currently leads the Pac-12 in field goals made per game and field goal percentage.

D'Amato had an outstanding fall camp, showing his leg strength by kicking balls out of Witter Field, over the fencing, over Rim Road, and into Memorial Stadium across the street.

Yet after his rough game in Columbus, there might have been some concern about whether he had the consistency needed to keep holding on to the kicking job.

“As kickers you have to have a short memory,” said D'Amato, who although he struggled with field goals in the early going, was still managing to give the Bears their deepest kickoffs in years. “Going back to the Ohio State game, I flushed the first one from my memory, flushed the second one, and was unfortunate I couldn't get a third one but after that I came back to work. My coaches and my team have a lot of trust in me that helped me get through it, I noticed on video that I had a minor technical problem so I fixed that a little bit and everything started picking up from there.”

And while elements of the fan base who tend to panic at the slightest hint of trouble might have been willing to roll out any kicker in D'Amato's place after the Ohio State game, coaches understand that it's a long season and they also have an idea if what they see in a game doesn't necessarily correspond with what they see day after day in practice.

“I had a lot of support from my coaches and my team and Coach Tedford said he was 110% behind me and I appreciated that,” said D'Amato, a legal studies major who's looking at one day going into education. “ That was a confident boost. I'm very close to (former Cal kicker) Giorgio Tavecchio. He had some hard games here as well but overall he was a great kicker. He's been a great mentor and we talked a lot and he was always there supporting me. It gets tough at times and everyone criticizes you but you have to keep going and that's why we love to do it. it's because there's a lot of pressure and that's the way the game is. As kickers you're either the hero or the goat.”

Although D'Amato wears #13, the number's been far from unlucky for him. He wore #13 in high school, but when he came to Cal, that number was taken by quarterback Kevin Riley and linebacker Jarred Price.

“I've kind of never been a fan of numbers going back to high school,” said D'Amato. “They said here's 13, so I said OK I'll take it. I don't believe in any superstition or that numbers carry any sort of power or authority or you have to be great because you possess a number. I look at it that you have to work up to whatever it is and then your number is reflected on whatever it is because fans know you by your numbers.”

D'Amato is in many ways, an accidental football player. Growing up as a kid, he didn't follow the sport on TV. Far from wanting to be the next Morten Andersen or Sebastian Janikowski, the player he most wanted to emulate was Alessandro del Piero, the starting center forward for Italian club soccer team Juventus. But before that, he did the typical thing that most youth do, keep trying different sports until finding one that's suitable.

“The first sport I did was basketball, but I didn't stay with it too long. It just wasn't for me,” said D'Amato. “Then when we moved here, my Mom signed me up for soccer and I kind of progressed and got better. In high school, I made the soccer team's varsity my freshman year and I really didn't know where I was going to end up. I come from a family where no one went to college and I kind of thought that soccer would get me somewhere. But during my sophomore year, one of the football coaches at our school said 'Hey you want to come try out kicking, we've got a meeting this Wednesday.' Being the good kid was, I said yeah, so obviously I had to show up for the meeting. At the meeting they said they were going to have tryout and they looked at me and said are you going to come out, so I said yes again.”

And in high school, who doesn't get pulled off-track? Everybody reaches the point in life where they become curious about what's out there, curious about the different directions life can take, and suddenly one ends up a good deal away from where they thought they'd be, but faced with an opportunity, you give it your best shot and see what happens.

“So I went to tryouts and I asked myself, 'What am I doing here? I'm a soccer player, I love to play soccer,'” said D'Amato. “But I gave it a shot and my parents encouraged me to try something new even though it kind of broke my Dad's heart while I was doing it. But out of it sparked a great sophomore season where the first game I remember, I remember my first kick ever, I completely shanked it, then my coach was like, 'Hey don't worry about it, it's going to come down to the last minute.' and sure enough the first game comes down to the last minute.”

It'd be one thing if he could be eased in by kicking a few extra points, and then making a field goal at the end of a lopsided game where he could take his time and there was relatively little pressure. But life doesn't always work out that easily.

The opening game of the 2007 season pitted D'Amato's El Toro team against Corona del Mar – and as the game wound down, El Toro trailed by one, and if they didn't score a game-winning touchdown, it was going to have to come down to a field goal attempt.

And while D'Amato understood that he might be called upon to kick a field goal, the newness of football was something he was still taking in.

“I didn't know how to feel,” said D'Amato. “I wasn't nervous, but I didn't get the situation and the purpose of everything that was going on around me. I didn't know the difference between a linebacker and a lineman or any of that stuff.”

As the game wound down, the sideline became more tense, as people were yelling for the field goal team to get ready to take the field. The Chargers were stopped at the Newport Harbor 10-yard line and would be attempting a 27-yard field goal to win the game.

“Everyone was yelling, so I ran on the field and what I didn't notice is that the clock was still going, 14 seconds, 13, 12,” said D'Amato. “And I'm just taking my steps back slowly and the coach is screaming and I couldn't hear anything at that point. I'm just taking my steps back, taking them sideways, and set for one second. The holder didn't look at me. He called for the ball, the ball was down and muscle memory took over and from there. The kick was good and everyone rushed the field. It was pretty exciting.”

Later that season, D'Amato kicked a 24-yard field goal with 1:35 left in the game to help El Toro defeat Laguna Hills. And it was soon becoming apparent that for a sport that D'Amato viewed as a lark, that he and his soccer-playing friends viewed as the province of meatheads and something they said they'd never try, that there might be a future in it.

“I definitely didn't know what was going on at that point,” said D'Amato. “I just kind of saw it as hey, I'm getting lucky, but I think there was definitely a h and from God putting me on that football team that season. I didn't realize what was going through until the end, I went 7 for 9 on field goals with field goals from 48, 47 and 49 yards on homecoming and we won. I made a tackle and everyone was excited and even my Mom was going crazy.”

Now if a high school kicker can regularly make kicks beyond 40 yards, he's going to attract notice. And the grapevine is such that people will find that kicker a lot sooner than he'd have to go looking for them.

“After that season was when I figured that football might be important when I received a couple of letters from colleges,” said D'Amato. “I remember the first time I got three letters - I didn't know what to think because I never got a letter for soccer. One was for a camp, one was the University of Redlands and one was a bright orange one that said Princeton. Coming from a family that doesn't know much about college and seeing this letter from Princeton..I'd heard of this in movies but I'm thinking what's going on? I brought it home and my Mom was very excited and from there I realized this situation that had arisen from football.”

But after having spent a good part of his life playing soccer for a local club as well as school, D'Amato understood that he wouldn't be able to do everything, and at one point he was playing both high school soccer and high school football.

“I remember the schedule like it was yesterday,” said D'Amato. “ It was crazy. After school I would go to football practice for two hours than my mmom would pick me up than I'd go to club practice for two hours, then I'd get home at 9 all tired, shower, food on the table,eat really quick do homework wake up the next morning and do it all over again.”

As it became more evident that his future was in football, there was a hard decision to make. After all, much of his life was spent playing soccer and for years he'd imagined that would be a big part of his future. While some people are fortunate to have a talent for something that they really enjoy and has been a life long passion, for a lot of others the convergence doesn't come quite that easily.

“A lot of guys on my club team were guys on my high school team,” said D'Amato. “Once we got into high school, we set up a little group and said that once we were seniors we were going to end up winning the championship for soccer and that ended up happening. We were very close. But they understood that fact that I was pursuing football after awhile, and then they saw me kick.”

And as D'Amato spent more time practicing and becoming familiar with the game, football evolved from something that he was good with to something that he had a passion for.

“I had a kicking coach in high school that helped me out and we I kind of developed a style that was comfortable,” said D'Amato. “Once I got to junior year, my coach sat me down and said 'Hey, listen, you've got some real potential to go somewhere.' That 's when I started spending sleepless nights thinking about what this has become. I'm a good kicker. I went to practice every day, excited for football, looking to better to myself in order to reach that goal of the next level.”

During his junior year he was 15 of 22 on field goal attempts and was kicking touchbacks with relative ease. So eager was he to help his team, he asked head coach Jake Haley about the possibility of playing other positions.

Haley, understanding his good fortune in having a kicker who was a weapon, replied, jokingly (and maybe not so much).

“Don't you dare. Just kick.”

In his senior year, he began to receive a lot of attention from college coaching staffs. His interest was primarily with west coast schools, and on the final weekend before signing day he had two offers – from Cal and Stanford.

And one choice stood out.

“My parents were happy,” said D'Amato. “They saw the type of people that (Cal head football coach Jeff) Tedford and (special teams coach Pete) Alamar were. The big deal was was this going to make me a better person. I would pursue academics and become a better man, a better football player and a better student. They both brought off that vibe, both of th em and my parents were very happy and very thrilled to see that. I just felt like I fit it more here. It's a great campus, and it's a very multicultural so I feel like with my background I would not be accepted more here, but I kind of belong here.”

Now at that point, it'd be nice to say that D'Amato arrived at Berkeley, redshirted a year, then went on to kick his way, not just to glory but into the hearts of Cal football fans. But considering that D'Amato's career hadn't resembled anything like a straight line, there was no point for it to start now.

In fall of 2009, when he arrived on campus, the Bears already had two kickers, Giorgio Tavecchio and David Seawright. In some cases, a unit with two established kickers could be resentful about a new kicker whose come to take their jobs, but that was far from the case.

“That first year was really great,” said D'Amato, who played in 10 games that season, was 7-of-12 on field goals, made all 31 extra point attempts and finished the season third in scoring with 52 points. “Bryan Anger, David Seawright, Giorgio, everyone was very friendly and very helpful. As a freshman, it was kind of difficult time. This was the first time I'd been away from family and Italian families are really close. There were times I struggled, but my teammates helped carry me through. I remember my first game, like it was yesterday. I was thinking to myself, about whether I was going to get nervous. I remember stepping on the bus for the first time, going to Memorial Stadium and looking in front of me and there was this police car leading us to the stadium and I just got emotional.”

Yet in 2010, a spirited competition saw Tavecchio reclaim both the kickoff and placekicking duties. Although Tavecchio and D'Amato were, and are to this day, very close friends, and the Cal kickers were supportive of each other's efforts, D'Amato isn't ashamed to say that it was a difficult season.

From playing a lot as a true freshman to seeing almost no time as a sophomore is a tough pill for anybody to swallow. While the logical thing is to keep working, keep competing and try to regain your spot – kickers aren't like defensive linemen or running backs who get rotated during the course of a game.

As although D'Amato was wrestling with his role on the team, it didn't stop him from fulfilling his obligation as a teammate and a friend.†

“I had an emotional drop and a mental drop,” said D'Amato. “I was coming off of this season where I played as a freshman and I was very excited for the next season. We brought in a new special teams coach and I was ready to impress him with what I had. Giorgio was doing the same, Giorgio had the edge that year and I kind of mentally collapsed and had to build myself up again. At no time was I not supportive of Giorgio. I felt like he deserved that opportunity that he got. It was a tough year for me, and I thinking it was a tough year for Giorgio because he finally had all the duties and he was, he himself was growing mentally while I was observing him and seeing his mental strength.”

And while D'Amato could have decided to head somewhere else to get a new start and find a new opportunity, he chose to stick it out in Berkeley, largely for the education, but also because he knew that at some point he'd get an opportunity.

When Tavecchio won both jobs again for the 2011 season, D'Amato asked the coaching staff for a redshirt year. This way, he'd have two seasons of eligibility remaining to see how good he could become. But even though he was redshirting, that didn't mean he was going to take a passive approach to things.

“I told Giorgio that I was going to be on his butt all the time,” said D'Amato. “That's not stopping. Just because I'm redshirting it doesn't mean that I'm going to take it easy or take a break and that mentality helped me focus and helped him focus. He'd developed a great level of maturity where he believed in himself and held himself up to a high mental standard and physical standard as well throughout his senior year. There's never been kind of a rough edge around me and Giorgio, we've always been very positive towards each other.”

And as D'Amato now finds himself as the graybeard among a group of six other kickers and punters who haven't quite developed to the point of understanding how the winds of Memorial Stadium can wreak havoc on a first year kicker. Now he finds himself in the role of helping guide the next wave of kickers just as Tavecchio, Seawright, and Anger helped him.

“It's exciting, just looking back and they're what I was at that moment,” said D'Amato. “Anxious and nervous to see what happens. The most important message I could pass to them is to enjoy the journey and see how it plays out because the most important part of this whole process is making great friendships that will take you through your whole life.”

D'Amato's play has been one of the few bright spots in a season where the team has underperformed expectations.

Sometimes when a season goes badly, teams can start having divisions but that hasn't been the case.

“The team's done a good job of staying together and staying close,” said D'Amato. “It's definitely been a difficult season, it's not the season we wanted as coaches or as players but there's always something to learn. I think the team's going to learn a lot from the season. Like Coach tells us, tough times never stay but tough people do.”

While it may not have been the traditional of journeys, for the son of Antonio and Veronica D'Amato, who as a young boy saw himself suiting up with the bianconeri, but stepped into a meeting out of curiosity and within months later found himself playing a strange sport that would take his life in a different direction and ultimately to Berkeley, it's something that D'Amato wouldn't have traded for anything.

“I feel like I'm truly blessed to be here and I'm very excited to be a part of this program,” said D'Amato. “ I feel like it's going by so fast and that sometimes the younger guys forget to enjoy it and soak it in. Where I am now, I notice that everyday's a blessing, that you have to enjoy every day and that's the best attitude I can bring to the team and on and off the football field for the younger teammates and younger group of specialists.”

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