Italian kicker shining for Topeka High
"My name is Gregorio Leonardo."
The way that name rolls off of Topeka High kicker Gregorio Leonardo's tongue is effortless. It's almost as effortless as how the Italian foreign exchange student caught the eye of Trojan head football coach Walt Alexander.
"I saw potential with him in the hallway, before I had ever seen him kick," Alexander said. "Just the way he looks athletically, the way his calves are built and you could tell he's an athlete. He's such a good kid."
The 17-year-old mainly plays soccer and practices with the Trojan football team once a week. He's only been in the United States for a month.
As he continues to learn about America, he also is picking up American football, a sport he said you can't watch in Italy until about 3 a.m. So he settled to learn about it from watching one game.
"The biggest match of the year, what's its name," Leonardo asked. "Oh yeah, the Super Bowl."
What stood out most to him from it was the passion of the game.
"How the guys come on the field with the intense (intensity) that they are playing," Leonardo said. "You can feel that it's a pretty big deal, which you find out here that it is."
And once Alexander got the soccer player onto a football field, he figured his new kicker could turn out to be a pretty big deal.
"He had never really kicked a football before and it took him maybe 15 minutes to figure it out," Alexander said. "And then he really started booming them. And he hasn't even reached his potential yet."
"What I'm trying to improve more is how to handle the ball," Leonardo said. "The direction and the intense (intensity) in which I kick."
The adjustment to a new sport pales in comparison to learning a whole new country. Leonardo lives with a host family. He said his interactions with Americans don't match what he was told to expect.
"They like to be private," Leonardo said he was told. "I didn't totally agree. The thing that surprised me more than everything was the people here."
He symbolizes the cultural melting pot he admires about the United States. But his favorite part of American culture is an idea as old and cherished in this country as any: The American Dream.
"I have this feeling now in USA and everybody has it," Leonardo said. "If you really work on it, you can make your dream come true."