Editor's note: This is the first in a recurring series of Q&A's featuring local athletes who have gone on to national prominence, talking about their days growing up.
The story of Breno Giacomini, the Malden-raised son of Brazilian immigrants, is truly unique. After starting off as a quarterback his freshman year at Malden High, Giacomini left football to focus on his basketball career, only to return his senior season in the fall of 2003 and earn league all-star nods, but not much else.
But in early January of 2004, Giacomini’s fortunes changed when then-Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino received his game film and offered him a scholarship six days later. Giacomini had no other Division 1 offers in any sport.
After finally cracking the starting lineup for good in his senior season, Giacomini was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round (150th overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft. Two months after the draft, he signed a four-year rookie contract good through 2011.
The 6-foot-7, 325-pound Giacomini was in Malden this weekend, running his own football camp for area youths at MacDonald Stadium. Two former Louisville teammates, Carolina tight end Gary Barnidge and the Patriots’ own George Bussey, were also in town to help teach the 300 or so kids in attendance. Giacomini sat down with ESPNBoston for a few minutes Friday night to chat about life in Malden, legendary high school coach Rich Cullen, the road to the NFL, and the best roast beef chain on the North Shore (plenty to choose from, of course).
Q: When did you first start playing organized football?
A: "I started in Somerville Pop Warner. I can’t remember how old I was, but I only played for two years because then I was over the weight. I’d say I was probably 11 years old (when I first started playing). I started back up as a freshman in high school."
Q: Was it tough transitioning back after being away for a few years?
A: "Yeah, but we had a great squad here coming in as a freshman. We had real big guys, and we knew we could do something. I started off as a quarterback for our freshman team, and we did really good."
Q: Really, you started off as a quarterback?
A: "My freshman and sophomore years. My junior year, I didn’t play because I thought I was going to pursue a basketball career, so I wanted to focus on that. I played AAU ball with Boston Metro, we went down to Florida (for AAU Nationals) and did all that. My senior year, coach (Rich Cullen) asked me to come back, and most of my friends were like ‘you’ve got to come back, it’s our last go-around’, so I agreed to play with them. I played outside linebacker and tight end my senior year."
Q: Looking at the whole body of work, from freshman year at Malden to now, what was the transition like?
A: "When I got to college, coach Petrino was there, and he recruited me as a defensive guy. He brought me into his office and told me ‘You’re going to eventually be an offensive lineman, but for the next few years we want to use your athletic skills and put you at tight end, but with the two’s or three’s you’ll be playing tackle’. So really, I’ve been playing tackle for a little bit, but mainly tight end, so the transition wasn’t really that big because I kept going back and forth, back and forth, in practice. But in the game, I’d play tight end. And I was mainly a blocking tight end anyways, know what I’m saying? (laughs)"
Q: You were a one-time Greater Boston League All-Star at outside linebacker, and that was it for accolades. When you arrived at Louisville, they were a Top 25 program. How’d you get exposed?
A: "Yeah, I got there right on time, dude (laughs). Actually, coach (Ray) Boghos was our defensive coordinator here at the time, and he knew coach Petrino from his Montana days, or something like that. Called him, ‘Hey coach, I got a player here you need to see’, coach says ‘OK, send the tape’. Sent down the tape, let’s say on a Monday (in early January), I was there Friday night in Louisville getting recruited by them, and they offered me on Sunday morning for a scholarship. So that’s how it happened, coach knowing him and me being…we sent the Medford tape (from Thanksgiving day), a whole bunch of highlights, and that’s how it happened, man. Just luck I guess."
Q: Where were the other offers?
A: "Football, a whole bunch of D2, D3, that’s it. I wanted to try and play basketball, I was going to go to prep school for another year, because you know, that was my best option for basketball. They (Louisville) offered me a scholarship and I couldn’t say no, come back and say ‘Mom, I didn’t take the scholarship’, know what I’m saying? (laughs) I said ‘Alright, I’m coming’, and it’s worked out. I’m glad I did it for sure.(laughs)"
Q: Who did you take after growing up?
A: "You know what, growing up, I got into sports fairly early, but I really liked Jordan. I wanted to be a basketball guy, so I watched as many games of Jordan as I could. He was one of my biggest role models. But another guy that really stands out is Drew Bledsoe. I was 6-4, and here’s a quarterback that I don’t know how tall he is (Bledsoe is 6-foot-5), but whenever he came to the Patriots, that’s when I really fell in love with football is when he was there. He was a guy I looked up to all the time.
Funny story, the Patriots were having a team dinner at the Marriott in Boston, Copley Place, and my father’s a maintenance guy there. He brought me up there, and I went up to Drew Bledsoe and got his autograph. Ever since then, man, football’s been right up there. It was a team dinner, they sell the tables to whoever, and my dad snuck me up there and I just asked him to sign my jacket. It’s kinda weird giving a guy a jacket to sign at a team dinner, but I didn’t care. I wanted his autograph (laughs). Just meet him, know what I mean?"
Q: What lessons did you learn from Rich Cullen that you still hold with you now?
A: "Coach Cullen’s a great coach, man. Basically…everything. We weren’t really that good (the Tornadoes went 5-6 his senior season), so really preparing for the next game, forgetting about the last game, just moving on. We weren’t fortunate enough to win that many games, but he just kept pushing us, and that’s the one big thing that I think contributed to me, the hard work that we had to put in, even though we had nothing to look forward to besides the Medford game, because we weren’t going to make playoffs. So, dealing with adversity, that’s probably the biggest thing I took from coach Cullen."
Q: What’s your favorite moment from your high school playing days?
A: "No question about it, the Medford game. It’s my last game of my senior season, going into the game I didn’t even think that I was going to (go on to play in college). Louisville hadn’t even contacted me, basketball was going to be it, prep school. I told this story to someone earlier, I was in the weight room…the night before, you know it’s a big deal, the team has a traditional team dinner, somebody goes out and T.P.’s a cheerleader’s house and all that (laughs), but you know I couldn’t sleep at all the whole night. I’m just thinking, you know, this is my last game, what am I going to do, I’ve got to do really good.
"It mighta been the fourth quarter of the game, and I had been getting after their quarterback the whole game man, I’m telling you. Then this one play, they couldn’t stop me, I’m coming around the corner and it’s a roll-out to the right on their sideline, I come and I sack the quarterback. This sounds bad, but he didn’t get up. He was knocked out for a little bit. That’s my biggest memory, my best memory, my favorite I guess, when I knocked him out, because I’m a defensive player and went after the quarterback, (him) being from Medford, that’s definitely the biggest. It’s on Thanksgiving, you know there’s a few thousand people there. It wasn’t that cold, it was actually a sunny day, no snow, maybe 20-25 degrees. I was so nervous going into the game.
"Another one was when I was a freshman, and coach Cullen threw me in there, it was versus Peabody in the fourth quarter. It was a 55-yard touchdown pass, and it was just a bomb. The kid caught it on the five yard line, and just walked right in. Those are my two biggest memories as a high school football player.
Q: What did you find to be your toughest obstacle on your path to the NFL?
A: "So far man, getting to the NFL, huh. Wow. Moving away was tough. I’d say just going to college, not having to deal with anybody telling you what to do. We had a lot of support, but we didn’t have any family support down there. I could give a phone call or something, but none of my buddies were down there. So I think the first year of transition from high school to college, that was the toughest thing. But you know, I tried to work as hard as I could, so that really paid off. I’m telling you, if you asked one of my coaches down there today, they’d tell you I was one of the hardest workers, and I kinda just ran with that, know what I mean? I didn’t start until my senior year as a tackle. I mean I started a few games as a tight end, you rotate in and out, but dealing with not playing a lot…I played in every game, but I wanted to be that starter, and I finally got my chance senior year. So that might have been the biggest thing, moving away from home really."
Q: How important is footwork as an offensive lineman?
A: "Oh yeah. ‘You win with your feet’ is what they tell me every day. Coach (James) Campen is our o-line coach in Green Bay, and he tells us that every day. In college, if you do lose but you’re a little bit stronger than the other guy, maybe quicker, you can win. But in the NFL, no way, you need to win with your feet, so footwork is the most important thing, and then comes your punch and your second reaction after that. I wanted to pursue basketball, so that’s where I got my footwork. I’m glad I did that, because I think I have really good footwork for being a 325-pound guy, know what I mean?"
Q: You a Kelly’s guy or a Mike’s guy?
A: "Kelly’s. Just because we went over to Revere a lot. That’s just where we went growing up, know what I mean?"