All around sophomore kicker Rafael Gaglianone are reminders there is plenty of work yet to be done.
There is Taylor Mehlhaff’s All-America plaque on a wall in the Camp Randall Stadium room where the specialists on the University of Wisconsin football team gather for meetings.
There is Mehlhaff’s photo in a collage of program greats the Badgers walk past as they make their way down a ramp inside the McClain Center on their way to the locker room.
And then, of course, there is Mehlhaff in the flesh, offering a daily source of encouragement and tips designed to make Gaglianone even better than he was a year ago.
“You hear a bunch of stories about him, but he definitely lives up to it,” Gaglianone said of Mehlhaff, who holds the title of quality control-special teams on Paul Chryst’s first staff at UW.
“He’s an awesome dude. He still looks jacked to this day. He looks like he could be playing with us right now.”
Mehlhaff’s name is all over the UW record books — he converted 76.9 percent of his field goals from 2004-07 and earned All-America honors as a senior after making 21 of his 25 attempts — and now he’s doing everything he can to help Gaglianone reach that same level of excellence.
What he discovered in Gaglianone was an eager student.
“He’s got a good mentality about it,” Mehlhaff said. “He’s always picking my brain about little things. He’s got a willingness to learn stuff, and that’s what I’m here for is to share my experiences with him.”
Gaglianone was 19 of 22 on field goals as a freshman, an 86.4-percent conversion clip that topped Mehlhaff (84.0 in 2007) as the second-best mark in program history. Only Matt Davenport, who was 19 of 21 (90.5 percent) in 1998, had a more accurate season than Gaglianone.
But Gaglianone is ready to put that season behind him even though he ended his freshman campaign with 14 consecutive conversions.
Gaglianone remembers feeling “wide-eyed” at this time a year ago as he went through his first camp. Now, he feels more mature.
He also feels completely healthy. Gaglianone sat out spring practice with a back injury but is back to normal after working through an exercise program designed to improve his strength and flexibility.
“You forget about last season and forget about the things that you did,” said Gaglianone, who made two field goals of 50 yards or longer, joining Mehlhaff and Philip Welch as the only UW players to accomplish that feat in a single season.
“You just think of ways to get better. We’re working with a new coaching staff and working with different stuff now, but it’s the same mentality: Make sure we make every single kick and work about one kick at a time. You can’t worry about making how many kicks in a row, you’ve just got to focus on one kick at a time.”
Mehlhaff, who had a brief NFL career after his time at UW, was impressed by what he saw of Gaglianone on video from last season. But Mehlhaff also noticed areas that needed improvement.
“The really good ones, the guys that are playing at the next level, it looks the same every single kick,” Mehlhaff said. “And there were like three different Raf’s (last season). It was a little bit different each time.”
Mehlhaff also pointed out to Gaglianone that some of his kicks barely made it through the uprights. Limiting mis-hits that could make a difference between a field goal being good or missing has been a point of emphasis.
“You miss a few kicks and make 60 percent of your field goals, and everybody thinks you’re no good anymore,” Mehlhaff said. “There’s a fine line.”
Gaglianone appears to have gotten the message.
“You want to hit that perfect spot on the ball, you want to get that great height, you want to give no chance for anybody to block that kick,” Gaglianone said. “It’s all about getting better. I felt like last year, some of the kicks that I made were not as good of a hit as I should have had. I’m just really working on making my A-ball as consistent as possible. Even if the B-ball was going in last year, you always want to hit the A-ball.”
Gaglianone wears No. 10, just like Mehlhaff did, but their backgrounds couldn’t be much different. Gaglianone is a native of Brazil, while Mehlhaff is from South Dakota.
Their approach to football is quite different as well. Mehlhaff had a no-nonsense approach, while Gaglianone is much more laid-back.
“Who’s to say what the right way is,” Mehlhaff said. “That’s just his personality, that’s who he is, and it might serve him really well as a kicker.
“He’s a fun guy to be around. His personality is contagious and his teammates like him.”
So does Mehlhaff, and the feeling is clearly mutual.
“He makes it easy for us to learn,” Gaglianone said. “He’s just very easy to communicate with. He’s been in our shoes out here, so he knows what we’re going through.”