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Who is Giorgio Tavecchio, the Raiders’ Italian kicker who almost quit football?

Tavecchio persisted, and now he’s filling in for Sebastian Janikowski as Oakland’s go-to guy for field goals.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Giorgio Tavecchio isn’t supposed to be here. The Raiders’ kicker — the first not named Sebastian Janikowski to kick a field goal for the franchise since 2001 — had bounced from offseason roster to offseason roster without getting a single chance to play in a regular season game. While opportunities were plentiful, he was just good enough to entice teams in need of special teams help, but not good enough to break into the exclusive fraternity of full-time NFL kickers.

But after Janikowski’s bad back pushed him to the injured reserve list, Tavecchio earned one last chance to shine. Now he’s lining up field goals for Oakland on Sundays. His debut — the first game of his pro career since going undrafted back in 2012 -- went as well as it could have. He connected on all four of his field goal attempts in a 26-16 win over the Titans, and was later named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

He also made history. Two of those kicks came from 52 yards, making him the first NFL player to kick a pair of 50+ yard field goals in his debut.

So how did Giorgio Tavecchio get here?

Tavecchio was born in Milan, Italy but moved to the United States as a child. He played his high school football at Campolindo High School in Moraga, California -- a city approximately 13 miles from Oakland. He was an effective kicker, though his thick Italian accent occasionally made things difficult for his teammates. Via The Mercury News:

Tavecchio wasn’t a stereotypical football player in high school. His coach at Campolindo High, Kevin Macy, said Tavecchio put a map of Italy on his play-calling wristband and showed it off before games. Once when Macy wanted an onside kick — a “pooch” kick — Tavecchio spoke in such a rapid Italian accent while asking multiple times if he should kick it left or right that he flustered his own teammates.

He walked on to the football team at nearby Cal, earning kickoff duties as a true freshman and working his way into field goal duty as the season wore on. As a senior, he connected on 20 of his 23 attempts — and was somehow more accurate from long range than he was on extra points (36-of-42).

Despite the world’s most depressing pro day, where he kicked in front of zero scouts in the California rain, he earned his first NFL contract with 49ers in 2012. San Francisco cut him before he even saw the field, setting off a string of almosts that led him to deals with the Raiders, Packers, and Lions without finding a permanent home.

The one team who kept calling, however, was the one closest to his American home. The Raiders saw Tavecchio’s talent, even though they had no room for him on the roster behind their entrenched veteran kicker. As Silver and Black Pride tells it:

He was their first signing of 2015 on February 24 and that time would spend the entire offseason, training camp, and preseason with the team. That would be the case again in 2016 and this previous offseason as well. And each time, once the final roster was released, he was among the unemployed.

It was after the first two times that Tavecchio had thoughts of giving up his dreams of being an NFL kicker.

“It was pretty close, pretty close,” Tavecchio said of considering giving up football.

This August, Oakland brought him back into the fold for the fourth time, but cut him on Sept. 2, the NFL’s cutdown date. He came back to the team’s practice squad one day later, then promoted to the active roster once Janikowski was moved to the IR. That set him up for last Sunday’s debut, where he proved persistence pays off.

How important is he to the Raiders?

Extremely. Janikowski is one of the league’s longest-tenured players, but he’s also an expensive luxury who’s currently on the injured list. His contract impasse with the Raiders this offseason raised questions about his future with the team, and whether he could be replaced.

Tavecchio is only one game into his NFL career, but the early returns suggest he could fill Janikowski’s role at a lower cost. The 27-year-old rookie is slated to earn $465,000 this fall and would be similarly cheap to re-sign next offseason or extend this winter. Janikowski, on the other hand, had to be talked into reducing his 2017 salary from $4 million to $3 million this fall and will be a free agent in 2018. The Italian emigre would represent a younger and cheaper option than his predecessor, who will be 40 next season.

The former first-round pick is still a proven and dangerous kicker who made nearly 83 percent of his kicks last season, but may find greener pastures elsewhere if Tavecchio can be locked down with a value contract. Of course, the young Italian still has to prove he’s not just a one-game wonder.

And if you had any doubt about how much his breakthrough means to Tavecchio himself, well ...

Like Raiders quarterback Derek Carr put it, Tavecchio’s journey is “ like a movie.”