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Wisconsin kicker Gaglianone 'strong again' after offseason weight loss

MADISON, Wis. -- There have been days this offseason in which Wisconsin kicker Rafael Gaglianone wished he could bury his face in a mound of carbohydrates, eschewing fish and tasteless salads for bread and soda. But each time Gaglianone's cravings crested, he reminded himself why he took the pledge to diet in the first place: to become an elite-level Big Ten kicker once again.

"Obviously it's not the easiest life when you're eating stuff you don't like at night," Gaglianone said. "You're eating salads without dressing and you're like, 'Man, this blows.'

"But at the same time, you're looking at the big picture. The only thing coaches kept preaching to me was just get one percent better. Be one percent better than you were yesterday. I think back to my kicks. If it was like one percent better, maybe I don't hit the post."

That mindset has allowed Gaglianone to stick with a plan presented to him by his coaches in early January, to avoid carbs, eat lean protein and stay regimented. As a result, Gaglianone's weight has plummeted from a high last season of 247 pounds down to 224 pounds, he said. For the 5-foot-11 Brazilian with the powerful right leg, less weight has meant more leg speed and confidence with his junior season approaching.

It also means he is likely to draw some double takes come next season, according to his coach.

"Fans might not recognize him," Badgers coach Paul Chryst said. "He's done a great job. That's where all the things off the field do carry over on the field. He's lost 20, 25 pounds. What that means to kicking, I really don't know. But I do know he's committed to finding areas where he can get better, and I think [more] consistency. He's certainly talented."

Gaglianone arrived on the national scene in his first college game against LSU in 2014. Listed at 231 pounds as a freshman, Gaglianone buried a 51-yard field goal, and his subsequent shimmy became a widely circulated Vine loop. It was just the beginning of a sensational rookie campaign that finally quelled the fears of a program in desperate need of a consistent kicker.

He made 19 of 22 field goal tries and converted 14 consecutive attempts to match the longest streak in school history. He became the first freshman at Wisconsin to make multiple 50-yard field goals in a season and earned honorable mention all-Big Ten status. He ranked second among Big Ten kickers in field goal accuracy behind only Maryland's Brad Craddock, who won the Lou Groza award for best kicker in the country.

All those successes meant Gaglianone should have produced a truly special sophomore season. But he sat out spring practice with a sore back, lost some leg strength and gained more weight. Footballs that split the uprights as a freshman began to sail wide -- he missed at least one kick in six of the first seven games, including twice off the right upright. Bad luck conspired against him, too. A 35-yard field goal attempt against Purdue was partially blocked because of a protection breakdown. A 40-yard make against Minnesota was called back because of a holding penalty, and he missed the ensuing 50-yard try.

In total, Gaglianone ranked only 10th among Big Ten kickers in field goal accuracy, making 18 of 27 attempts.

"Obviously 66 percent, I look at that," Gaglianone said. "If anybody has seen me kick, if you know myself, I know I'm better than that. I wasn't contributing to the team in the way that I know that I can. It's tough when you feel like you're still putting in the work and the results aren't coming."

Gaglianone felt as though his mechanics were sound during the season. But the most obvious and immediate solution was one that required a push from coaches: shedding pounds.

"After freshman year, I was a little overweight," Gaglianone said. "That's no secret. Everybody could see with the tight jerseys and stuff. I feel like last season I kind of got away with the loose-fit shirts. So I was willing to do anything they told me to."

Gaglianone's first order of business was learning to cook fish. And lots of it. His parents taught him a salmon recipe with capers and olives. When he tired of eating the same thing for weeks at a time, he bought tilapia and shrimp. He stopped eating carbs after 4 p.m. on the advice of the training staff. He drank water instead of soda.

The difference, Gaglianone said, has been noticeable. And he expects the flamboyance and self-belief that made him a fan favorite two seasons ago to yield positive results once more -- even if there is less of him on the field.

"I just feel a lot quicker to the ball, lighter, more explosive," he said. "I feel strong again. I feel like last season I didn't have the leg that I came in with. I'm trying to be the best that I can."