As an incoming freshman at the University of Wisconsin, kicker Rafael Gaglianone attempted to navigate his way through his first in-state camp with Kohl’s Kicking.
He remembers introducing himself to about 20 other specialists attending the camp, with one member of the group — Nebraska punter Sam Foltz — coming up to him 15 minutes later calling him by his first name.
“Just kind of acted like he knew me,” Gaglianone said. “He helped me out with some stuff in the camp. I became a coach for the second portion of the camp, and he was an older guy that had been running camps. I was kind of his partner and he was sort of mentoring me through the process.”
Talk to those who knew Foltz and they’ll tell a similar tale of the immediate influence he had on everyone he met.
Foltz died in a car accident, along with former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler, near Waukesha in July when a number of college football specialists had gathered for another Kohl’s Kicking camp.
The impact Foltz had on Gaglianone over the two-plus years of knowing him led the Badgers junior to wear Foltz’s No. 27 this season, and Gaglianone will join Nebraska’s football team in carrying Foltz’s jersey onto the field Saturday when the seventh-ranked Cornhuskers take on No. 11 UW at Camp Randall Stadium.
Last year’s game between the teams in Lincoln was one where Gaglianone thought he had blown the game for UW before becoming the hero. He missed a 39-yard field goal with less than two minutes remaining — his second miss of the day — but nailed a 46-yard attempt with 4 seconds left in UW’s 23-21 victory.
Foltz walked over to Gaglianone and was happy for him even in defeat.
“That moment that Sam came over to me after that game was just kind of a turning point for me in our friendship,” Gaglianone said. “It was one of those moments where, he knew I was struggling in that game. He knew that I had gone through some adversity in missing a couple kicks early on. He just came to me and was generally happy that I was able to come through at the end and make that kick.”
Foltz’s parents will be in Madison for Saturday’s game. Gaglianone met them when he traveled to Nebraska for Foltz’s funeral and said he has spoken with Foltz’s father, Gerald, every Friday since the accident.
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“That’s where you find out why Sam was the great guy that he was,” said Gaglianone, who won’t play in Saturday’s game after suffering a season-ending back injury earlier this season. “It comes from the family and the base that, that small-town mentality of being nice to everybody and just caring about everybody.
“Ever since, (Gerald’s) been calling me and talking to me and just kind of keeping up with the season. Just wondering how I’m doing and how I’m dealing with all that and just keeping me motivated. … It’s been good having his support and knowing that they’re doing fine and they’re doing well with all the things they’re dealing with on their plate.”
Gaglianone has become closer with Nebraska kicker Drew Brown over the past few months, as well as other Cornhuskers players who contacted him after he decided to switch his jersey number.
He plans on visiting with Foltz’s parents Friday night and hanging out with some of the Nebraska players at their team hotel before walking out of the visitor’s tunnel at Camp Randall with Foltz’s jersey.
“It’s just an emotional game,” Gaglianone said. “It kind of brings all the memories back. It’s just hard when you have all the families coming, and it’s kind of the place close to where it all happened. For the family to get some closure and for you to try to explain what those last few days were. It’s going to be very emotional just being there and not being with Sam and not playing the game as well.
“It’s not easy for anybody this week, just kind of having all the flashbacks and all the things that, it’s still tough to understand how things like that happen. All you can do is try to find a positive and try to be there for the family, so that’s what I’ll do.”
On the mend
Gaglianone said he had back surgery about four weeks ago and was recently cleared for “little stuff” such as short runs on an underwater treadmill.
He also said he expects to be 100 percent by the spring and plans to play two more seasons for the Badgers. The timing of his injury qualifies him for an NCAA medical hardship wavier, meaning he could regain his year of eligibility and enter next season as a redshirt junior.