A 'leg up' on the competition

JACKSON -- The Jackson County Central football team is lucky there isn't a soccer team in town. If there was, they probably would never have ended up with stand-out kicker Marcelo Rinaldi.

Rinaldi kicks
Daniel Kerwin/Daily Globe Jackson County Central's Marcelo Rinaldi practices kicking Tuesday in Jackson.

JACKSON -- The Jackson County Central football team is lucky there isn't a soccer team in town. If there was, they probably would never have ended up with stand-out kicker Marcelo Rinaldi.

Rinaldi has already made a name for himself after just more than a month in town. He has had the crowd at JCC football games hanging on his every kick this season, a huge achievement for an often overlooked aspect of the game.

"The ball makes a different noise when it comes off of his foot," head coach Tom Schuller said. "You hear talk about power hitters in baseball that the ball makes a different noise for them, and the ball makes a different noise when it comes off his foot in practice."

Rinaldi, an exchange student from Brazil, is lucky the football team needed a kicker. He has played soccer since he was 4 years old, but after deciding to study in Jackson for his senior year of high school, he discovered that he couldn't play soccer during his time here. He decided he needed a different sport.

"I was hoping to play soccer, but here there isn't soccer, just football," Rinaldi said.


He was convinced by his host family to try out for the team. He agreed, except that he wasn't eager to be involved in the more physical aspects of the game.

"I don't want to hit anybody," Rinaldi said. "In soccer we don't have contact, so I don't know how to tackle somebody, so when my host mother told me that I would play football, I said 'OK, I want to try it, but I don't want to hit anybody, so what is the position that doesn't hit anybody? Kicker. OK, I'll be the kicker.'"

Trying out for kicker turned out to be a good choice. Schuller has often had reason to tell Rinaldi that his kicks have been "muito bom" -- Portugese for "very good." It's one of the Portugese phrases Rinaldi has taught the coaching staff.

"He came out right away and wanted to try it, we said we'll see if this works," Schuller said. "It was evident from the first time that he kicked the ball that it was going to be a possibility that it could work."

Seven of his kickoffs went for touchbacks in the Huskies' win over Worthington last Friday, an almost unheard of number in high school football.

The ability to rely on Rinaldi's powerful kickoff has been a new luxury for the Huskies this year and has contributed to the team's early-season success.

"That's a great weapon," Schuller said of Rinaldi's kickoffs. "Last year I would guess we probably started at an average of our 35-yard line when we kicked off, and if we can get to the end zone with the Minnesota State High School League rules the way they are it comes out to the 20, so that's an average after our scores of probably 15 yards better that we are this year."

Rinaldi has also been kicking the field goal attempts for the Huskies, which makes his powerful kicks twice as valuable of a weapon.


"He's just got incredible leg strength and flexibility, and even though he's never played football you can tell he's played athletics, so he didn't seem to be nervous at all the first two games," Schuller said. "He has hit a 50-yard field goal in practice, and I would not be afraid to let him try one in a game. It is a great thing in high school football -- if we stall on the 20 yard line there are not many teams that can think about kicking a field goal."

Schuller has had foreign exchange students on his team before -- last year the team had an exchange student from Norway and one from Panama -- but none have been as influential as Rinaldi.

"It seems like every guy we get that's a foreign exchange student has played some soccer so we always think they can kick, but last year neither one of those guys could kick at all, so they played some different positions and had a good time with it," Schuller said. "We've never had anybody that can kick the ball like him. This guy can kick the ball and it will help our football team, as well as him having a good time doing it."

Moving to a town like Jackson after spending his entire life in Sao Paulo -- one of the most populous cities in the world -- hasn't fazed Rinaldi. He never seems to be able to put away his smile.

His toughest task has been overcoming the language barrier, but despite this he has fit in very well at JCC.

"It's different but I like it here," Rinaldi said. "I am at school and everybody says, 'Hi.' I know everybody. I like school, the teacher's like me -- I have a good relationship with everybody."

Playing football instead of soccer has been an obvious difference for him, but there are also subtler differences he has noticed at his games.

"It's different to me because there aren't cheerleaders in Brazil, so always I notice I'm not looking at the game, I'm looking at the cheerleaders," Rinaldi said. "And they are beautiful too, they have some attention."


The one thing he hasn't liked? The answer to that is one that any high school student in the world would be able to answer.

"Homework, that's the worst part," Rinaldi said. "I hate homework, and we have a lot. I don't have much time to do it because after school we go straight to practice, and there's a rule at home that I have to go to bed at ten o'clock, so I have like three hours or four to have dinner and take a shower and do homework, and that is a lot of homework."

Rinaldi will stay in Jackson throughout the school year and will graduate with his class. He hopes to gain other new experiences along the way, such as trying out for baseball in the spring.

He was playing for the junior squad of a Brazilian professional soccer team while in Brazil, but doesn't think he will become a professional soccer player. He is not sure yet whether college is in his future either.

"When I was in Brazil my mother was asking me what I wanted to do for college, but I was thinking only of coming here, so I'm not thinking of college yet," Rinaldi said.

Schuller said that Rinaldi has enough natural talent that he could consider getting further kicking training and looking to play football for a college, but doesn't think Rinaldi should be worried about that right now.

"You tell all the kids you don't play high school football to play college football, you play high school football to enjoy it," Schuller said. "If that's something that might present itself, great, if it doesn't it's certainly not the end of the world."

Right now Rinaldi and the Huskies are only focused on the immediate future and the team's matchup with Luverne this Friday.


Last season Luverne beat JCC to end their season in the section final.

Schuller said the team isn't necessarily looking for revenge for last year's loss and is treating Luverne just like every other team they face.

"We know the key is that we have to stop the run," Schuller said. "We hope to make them have to throw the ball a little bit, but we have to come out and stop their run first and foremost. On the other side we'd like to come out and establish the run ourselves, and they're probably thinking the same thing, that they need to stop our running game"

A pressing concern for the Huskies is to limit the number of penalties they receive during their games.

"Right now we're battling penalties -- I think we had over 10 penalties in that game (against Luverne last year) making it nearly impossible to win, so right now we've got to cut those things down," Schuller said. "It's hard enough to make first and 10 -- when you throw first and 15 and first and 20 in there on a regular basis it's awful tough to win football games."

Rinaldi wasn't a part of the team that lost to Luverne last year, but breaks into a huge smile when thinking of what will happen this Friday.

"We studied about the last game to not make the same mistakes this game," Rinaldi said. "I know it will be a hard game, but we will win."


Rinaldi on field
Daniel Kerwin/Daily Globe Jackson County Central's Marcelo Rinaldi stands on his home turf where he has made the transition from soccer to football.

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