Touchbacks: Q&A with GVSU's specialists

By Pete Barrows | 11/5/14 10:36pm


Kicker Marco Iaderosa (#53)

by GVL / Emily Frye / The Lanthorn

A few years late, and a third of a yard short, the Lanthorn finally gets around to kicking it with fifth-year senior legs for hire – Marco Iaderosa and Chris Picano – as they dish about life, love, burritos and what it takes to be a specialist on the Grand Valley State University football team.

Iaderosa and Picano knew in their hearts that, one day, adoring fans and student peers alike would clamor to know everything about their most beloved special team specialists, and a feature article would be written in their homage – a detailed piece delving into the inner mind and process of a collegiate kicker.

Since their redshirt season together at GVSU back in 2010, they have done plenty to secure their place in Laker lore, which had to be at the very least worthy of a small column.

Iaderosa has tallied a total of 49 touchbacks on 299 kickoffs (.164) as well as three GLIAC all-academic team nods, while Picano – named to the All-GLIAC second team back in 2012 – has racked up the second-highest career yards per punt average (39.0) in the history of the program. It was only a matter of time.

Except the article didn't come. Nor did the adulation, the glory or the fame. Such is the life of a kicker, but not even a footnote?

No matter. With one final home game left in their careers – a matchup Saturday against Tiffin – Iaderosa and Picano would probably settle for being correctly identified from one another.

Of Italian lineage, with beards Hugh O'Neill would be proud of, and stocky builds, both Iaderosa (5-foot-10, 205-pounds) and Picano (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) more closely resemble soccer balls than footballs, and, from a distance, might easily be mistaken for one another (as so happened in practice moments before this very exclusive interview was performed).

What they'd never be mistaken for is bland.

PB: How does one get started as a kicker?

MI: My dad came over from Italy, has always been about soccer, and I started playing when I was about 3. In middle school, I realized I was pretty good at kicking a football too, and found that I liked it. So I kept doing it.

CP: Same deal. I was a goalie, but I liked to run around a lot. My dad told me to try football so I did, and I was the only kid who could punt. I stuck with it all the way through, and well, it was a lot better than running around after a soccer ball.

PB: Then it was fate. How did y'all end up at GVSU together?

MI: Chris and I went to a couple of camps together, and the relationship between us seemed to work out really well. We both came to GVSU for a tryout, they liked both of us, offered both of us and so we figured why not spend some time together?

CP: That's kicker love. During the tryouts, coaches asked me which place-kicker I liked better. I let them know on a side note that Marco and I are friends, but also that he was better.

MI: I like Chris 'biceps too big for his body' Picano for his muscles.

PB: Biceps? Pretty decent draw of a nickname for a punter.

CP: Right? My dad, he was a linebacker, and had me lifting since sixth grade. I was a lineman in high school, wrestled and played rugby, but that's when I go off and punt. He says, “well this came out of nowhere, but keep lifting, keep lifting”. Now it's my stress-reliever. If football didn't go well today, I'll get a lift or go for a run and feel a lot better.

MI: I actually really enjoy going to lift with Chris, and pretty much just making fun of him. My stress-relief is making fun of Chris while he lifts.

PB: Did you see that ESPN recently ran a piece on Steve Weatherford (punter for the New York Giants) for having the best body in the NFL? The man takes something wild like 18 supplements every morning, and sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber.

MI: Dude is yoked out of his mind! It's absurd.

CP: Steve has been a huge idol of mine, and I've actually gotten a few tweets about the story today. A buddy of mine goes “the best body in Division II football also goes to a punter #fatjesus” and then tags me in it. Like alright, man. You can't call me Fat Jesus and the most fit player in D2 football in the same tweet.

PB: Give me the first word that comes to mind: Ray Guy.

CP: Hang time.

PB: Shane Lechler.

CP: Bomb.

PB: Steve Weatherford.

CP: #FitFam

PB: Marco, you're up. Adam Vinatieri.

MI: Clutch.

PB: Jason Hansen.

CP: Legend.

MI: Definitely legend.

PB: Sebastian Janikowski.

MI: Bomb! Bomb squad. Idol. Might be my favorite player ever. Love that guy.

PB: Can't blame you. The "Polish Rocket" might be one of the best nicknames in sports today. You have a good nickname?

MI: Well I'm not Polish.

CP: We never gave you a nickname, did we? It's coming to the end, and I have yet to think of a nickname.

MI: Could go Italian Stallion?

CP: I was going to go with Burrito.

PB: So they film these state of the football team addresses, and Marco, I've seen you representing with a burrito in hand on more than one occasion. How many burritos should a good kicker eat a day?

MI: The best strategy is a burrito a day keeps the doctor away.

PB: Better than an apple.

MI: Apples, how helpful are they? They don't even fill you up. If you eat a burrito a day, I'd say you're probably on your way to being one of the best kickers of all-time.

PB: Put this one to rest. Does it peeve you as kickers that you're the only ones in a sport known as football that use your feet?

CP: No way. I'm not that foreign yet.

MI: It probably makes my dad upset, but it doesn't bother me. I don't think he knows the difference between fútbol and football.

PB: Pitchers, goalies and kickers, man. What are some of the rituals that come with being a kicker?

CP: I put my pads on earlier in the day than most guys on the team do, and have grown out my hair and beard, but otherwise my rituals have pretty much stayed the same since my freshman year. On game day, I get up and eat the same breakfast every morning, and watch about an hour of Spongebob to relax. It's the mental part of football, ya' know? Then I take a nice little nap before we go out on our Laker Walk, do the same stretches before we get out to the field and then kick a few pin punts and deep punts. It works for me.

MI: Starting off the day, I always watch a little Fresh Price of Bel-Air because I've got to get in the right mindset.

PB: That's the best mindset.

MI: No doubt. Once I've laughed a little, and have done the Carlton in my basement, I'm ready to get out to the field. And when I do, I probably do stuff that's a lot different than what most kickers do. I spend a good amount of time doing anything but kicking. I go out and return punts, run routes with (quarterback) Isiah Grimes and the receivers and I love running around and pretending I play a different position for a little bit.

PB: So what you're telling me is that the coaches ought to game plan for you more.

MI: Well yeah. I like to go out there and show them that there's another weapon out there, and then the coaches on the other team freak out.

PB: Who can kick a football farther?

CP: When it comes to kicking, it's Marco by far. When it comes to punting...

MI: Chris just destroys me in punting.

CP: I can't kick to save my life. At least Marco can punt a little. That's why they keep him around as my backup. In case I go down, he's the next best thing we've got.

MI: Thanks, man!

PB: Is it true that chicks dig the long-ball?

MI: It is. That's what they love about me.

CP: You sure about that?

MI: Every time I show up places, girls ask me about the long-ball. Either that or the beard.

PB: What's the reaction you get when you tell people you're football players?

MI: Chris and I take pride when we go places and we tell people that we play football. They say what position, we tell them kicker or punter or something like that, and they look at us with this ridiculous face like “no you don't, you play fullback.”

CP: The look's more like “but wait, where's the quarterback at?”

MI: Exactly.

CP: We're both short and stocky, not tall and lanky. Hey did you know you've got the perfect body to be a kicker? And four years of eligibility left no matter where you go.

MI: Come work with us. We'll get you ready.

PB: I like the sound of that. Teach me up.

CP: We got you. Just remember a burrito a day.

PB: Finish this sentence: A kicker is a (blank).

MI: Hold on, I have to come up with something ridiculous.

CP: It has to be so stupid and out of the ordinary.

PB: This has already been one of my favorite interviews.

MI: Stick around the whole time. Just wait for it.

CP: We love to have fun.

MI: Hmmmm. A kicker is ... a long walk on the beach?

CP: But why? More like a kicker is ... a burrito.

PB: Do y'all enjoy watching football?

CP: More so on the college football scene, but I'm the guy when it comes to fourth down and no one wants to watch it that flips back to game just to see what the punter does. Most punters use the same base, same drop, same swing, but I love watching it. It's the one thing I care about.

MI: Chris and I have been to so many camps over the last couple of years that we know so many guys kicking all around the country, which is pretty cool. When UofM and MSU are playing, we know those guys. Cody Parkey with the Eagles, we know him, and we like seeing the guys that we've kicked with do some stuff.

PB: Chris, you're a rugby guy. Can a rugby star hack it in the NFL?

CP: Oh yeah. It's a different game – football's about every single inch, while rugby is more like soccer with time of possession, working the field, finding open guys to make a move – but I could see it happening.

PB: Marco: Favorite cub team?

MI: Real Madrid probably. I went to Spain this past summer and got to see the fans first hand, but my dad's team is Napoli since that's where he grew up. It's one of the two.

PB: What's your hidden talent?

CP: I'm a great cook. It's a passion of mine. My specialty it recreating my great-grandma's sauce and making pasta. It doesn't match hers – Marco can vouch that Italian grandmas can just throw anything in the pot and it all work out together – but mine's not shabby.

MI: Besides growing a beard? I like baking bread. And I make some mean bread. I'll toss in some garlic, some rosemary and you combine it with some pasta, it's dangerous.

PB: It was meant to be. Did you guys ever live together?

CP: We did. I actually crashed at his dorm all the time freshman year because I didn't want to walk back to the Ravines. He goes “how does the floor sound?”. I say “the floor sounds great.”

MI: I stayed over in Robinson, which was a lot of fun, and Chris basically slept on a giant pillow for over half of the year. You wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and you trip over Chris.

PB: You're both education majors and, like Grimes and Parling, have expressed interest in coaching. Cold you see a future where you keep the band together?

CP: We've talked about teaching in the same area before.

MI: It'd be a hoot if we taught at the same school. Maybe coach the same team. I don't know who'd coach the specialists, though. It'd probably be a fight.

PB: Now when you say fight, are we talking an argument or would you kick for it?

CP: Kick for it. But see the thing is that Marco would win the kicking competition.

MI: And Chris would win the punting competition, and we'd be right back where we started. Guess we'll have to long snap for it or something.

PB: What are the competitions like between you two?

CP: Either at the beginning or end of practice, we'll do long ball or pin punts and I can't win a pin punt to save my life. Everybody else seems to win it – we'll usually bet Jimmy Johns or something like that – even when they're blindfolded, and I'm still looking. That's how horrible I am. It's rough.

PB: Who's winning the beard competition?

CP: I've been growing mine since sometime in July. Marco's has been growing for maybe a month.

MI: I was blessed with some really nice beard-growing genetics.

PB: On the field, who can contribute more at other positions?

CP: When it comes to throwing and catching, it's Marco. When it comes to speed, me. Hitting I don't know.

MI: I've rocked some people here. Maybe we should run an Oklahoma drill? Chris is a better “in the trench” player, by far, and I'm a better skill player.

PB: I'm telling you, Marco, we need to get you out on the edge.

MI: I'm like Percy Harvin. As long as I have a ball in my hand, you have to get me involved.

PB: Breaking the mold for kickers everywhere.

MI: See kickers aren't always seen as real football players, but Chris and I have a different body type than most kickers. I've laid out kids in my time, which I think I enjoy more than the actual kicking, and of course Chris is yolked out of his freakin' mind. We're trying to revolutionize the position.

CP: I do have one career tackle.

MI: And six career rushing yards that nobody knows about. Don't forget that.

CP: And zero first downs. It was a fake punt and it was working, but there was a missed block and some dude caught me from behind about two yards short. It was the worst! I'm running and thinking to myself “I got it, I got it," and then this kid spider-monkied me from behind.

MI: Come on, Biceps, you have to throw that dude off of you. You didn't even try to stiff-arm him!

PB: What's the best part about running a kickoff?

MI: Especially here at the home, the best part is getting that opening kickoff. The crowd's going nuts, you've got the music and I just love energy knowing that I'm the first thing happening in the game. I just try not to mess it up.

PB: What's the mindset before a punt?

CP: I just tell myself not to shank so that everyone doesn't hate you. Marco was just talking about how everyone gets all hype for the kickoff, but when I'm out there, all I hear is “Boooooo offense! Why'd you have to do that?!” I just think to myself “gee thanks guys, I don't want to play either," go off, punt the ball, and typically the only people that cheer for me are the cheerleaders. Mostly the men cheerleaders, but hey.

PB: Still counts. When you're kicking often, Marco, that means GVSU is generally doing well. Just the opposite for you, Chris. What do you consider your perfect game?

MI: Touchbacks are obviously what I want, and hitting an absolute bomb into the end zone makes me happy. Besides that, as long as I get enough kicks in the game to stay warm, and don't have to go a half between getting on the field, I'm happy.

CP: Three punts with about a 40-yard average, and no touchbacks is about right for me. That way, I'm getting a little action, but we're not getting stopped too much.

PB: Are you aware that you currently have the second-highest career average per punt in GVSU history?

CP: I'm fighting for first right now. I'm at a 39.0 and the guy ahead of me is at a 39.3. Although, if you average in my punts to date, I'm at a 39.4 which is where I hope to be when it all comes down to it.

PB: With just three games to go. But who's counting?

CP: I had to know what I needed to do. And I do want the record, but whether I get it or not, one thing I am proud of is that I'm above everyone else when it comes to fair catches and punts downed inside the 20-yard line. That's hang-time, and getting the ball to where it needs to be.

PB: What's it like being a kicker on the sidelines?

CP: We're completely left alone. Whether we're losing or winning. It does bother us, but a lot of the times if we're doing good, it means we're doing good for the team. If we're having a bad game, our demeanor gets pretty down, but when we're having a good game, we're pretty hype even if the team is losing knowing we're doing or best.

MI: We can get pretty giddy. We even have our own cele (celebration). Wanna see?

The pair high-fives as they walk past each other, but then pulls an about face with vigor. Gearing up for a leaping mid-air shoulder bump, they again abort (it's a fake!), high-five a second time and then reach for each others feet, all in perfect synchronization.

CP: We don't leave the ground. We belong there.

PB: What T.V. or movie character do you relate to most?

CP: The kicker from The Replacements. He's so chill, so laid back and even though I don't smoke, I could see going out on the field with a cigar to punt giving you a real edge.

MI: Besides that, it has to be the kicker from Blue Mountain Sate. Harmon Tedesko is my idol, minus the drug abuse. Otherwise, he's got things figured out.

PB: Do you ever pull off a few beard hairs to check the wind?

MI: It hurts a little bit to pull so I just bring some scissors out there with me.

CP: Could bring the electric razor, but would probably jam it on the way out.

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