Football has been a road to success for Breno Giacomini. Now the 6-foot-7, 325-pound gentle giant is using his example to inspire youth in his hometown of Malden.
Last weekend, a number of his teammates on the Seattle Seahawks were undoubtedly relaxing at home before the first week of training camp in the National Football League. But the 27-year-old Giacomini, the starting right tackle for Seattle, hosted his fourth annual three-day football skills camp at Macdonald Stadium, assisted by a former Louisville teammate, Gary Barnidge, now a Cleveland Browns tight end, and 30 other volunteers.
Joe Pappagallo, varsity football coach at Malden High, has watched the 2004 graduate develop into a fine athlete. But he is more proud of Giacomini’s growth as a young man.
According to Pappagallo, roughly 60 percent of his Golden Tornado student-athletes live at or below the poverty line, and many can’t afford their own equipment.
Acknowledging those struggles, Giacomini and the Seahawks organization have teamed up the last three years to donate boxes of cleats, mounds of wide-receiver gloves, sneakers, and shower sandals to the Malden football program.
“He’s seen us coaches reach in our pocket and buy kids cleats for years,” Pappagallo said. “This is his way of trying to help out, and we couldn’t be happier.”
Through his donations and skills camps, Giacomini said, he hopes to keep the kids he calls “the future of our city” in school, on the field, and out of trouble.
“Being in high school and seeing what goes on in the streets here, we’re trying to turn that around, and [the kids] are doing a good job,” Giacomini said. “The key is to keep these kids busy, so they can’t do something bad.”
Barnidge, who runs a camp in his hometown of Middleburg, Fla., with the assistance of Giacomini and others, has witnessed the Malden community rally around his former college teammate.
“In four years coming to this camp, I can see how the community has truly been growing behind him every year,” said the 27-year-old tight end. “There’s just been so much support for him, and that’s great to see.”
On Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, 150 aspiring players, ranging from 7 to 18 years old and primarily from Malden, participated in drills specialized by position.
Then on Sunday, the players participated in skill challenges, with winners and runners-up receiving Seahawk hats and signed footballs.
Giacomini and Barnidge participated in all of the drills and cheered on the kids in the skill challenges, pumping up the young athletes, such as Raymond Sainristil, a senior captain-elect at Malden High.
As a running back and safety, Sainristil said he typically does not look up to an offensive tackle for inspiration. “But just seeing them come out here is a blessing, because they’re in the NFL and one of them went to our school, and he’s just a big name to us. So for him to come and help us out is a really good thing.”
As a rising senior center for the Golden Tornadoes, Matt Delaney looks at Giacomini as a role model.
“He plays a different position on the line, but all the fundamentals are the same and all his mechanics are the same,” said the captain, who also plays middle linebacker on defense. “You look at what he does and you just try to get better and try to get to what he does.”
Sophomore-to-be Mack Brunot felt honored and inspired by Giacomini’s presence.
“It’s a privilege because not everybody has somebody that went to their high school in the NFL,” Brunot said. “He’s showed that anything’s possible, and if you work hard, you’ll get there.”
And while Giacomini worked mightily to land in the NFL, it almost did not happen.
After two years suiting up for Malden High, he stopped playing to focus on basketball, prompting Pappagallo to have a heart-to-heart talk about the player’s future.
“I said to him: ‘Go and ask your basketball coach if you’re going to be a Division 1 basketball player,’” Pappagallo recalled.
“I told him: ‘If you’re going to be one, that’s fine. If not, you should consider sticking with football, because you have the body that we can get a Division 1 football scholarship for.’ ”
Giacomini, a slender 6-7, 240 pounds at the time, heeded Pappagallo’s advice. By the end of the year, he had a scholarship to play at Louisville.
There, he met Barnidge, and the pair roomed together for nearly four years. They were chosen nine picks apart in the 2008 draft, with Barnidge going 141st overall to the Carolina Panthers and Giacomini at 150th to the Green Bay Packers.
In April 2011, the duo, along with college friend Ahmed Awadallah, discussed their future and how they could use their status as professionals to help others. Awadallah, a native of Egypt, discussed running camps not only in this country, but abroad, and globalizing the game.
“I think that’s one of the challenges in American football,” said Awadallah, who graduated from Louisville in 2010 at the age of 20. “How do we take the sport to new levels where it’s a standard, where every country has games? That’s where we come in with our mission to spread football to every corner of the world.”
Soon after the discussion, they created American Football Without Barriers, a nonprofit organization with the goal of making their game a worldwide sport.
The organization made its first international trip in March, as the trio, along with DeAngelo Williams and Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers, along with San Diego Charger Thomas Keiser, traveled to Shanghai.
There, they spent time with orphans and taught Chinese teens and adults basic football fundamentals, while providing equipment for the Chinese clubs.
With no consistent sponsors, Football Without Barriers receives most of its funding either from auctioning off equipment or from the organizers’ own pockets. The organization hopes to gain sponsorships so it can provide more equipment for the kids and make more trips.
The Seahawks were scheduled to kick off training camp on Wednesday, so last weekend’s session in Malden was the final event of the year for the group. And it was a perfect ending to Giacomini’s offseason, he said.
Before leaving, he gave some parting advice to the Malden youths:
“The work you guys did out here was awesome,” Giacomini said. “Now bring that into the classroom, and that will take you anywhere. Keep practicing on and off the field, because you can’t do anything without school.”
Giacomini then promised a $1,000 scholarship to the high school player who returns next summer with the highest grade point average in the upcoming school year, and $500 to the top academic achiever who has not yet reached high school.