Jack of all trades
When Rafael Silva left the heat and crystalline shores of Rio de Janeiro to play soccer in the United States, he never imagined he would find himself in the bone-crushing arena of American football as Santa Monica College's prime kicker. "I came here to play soccer," Silva said. "I knew the football coach. He's a friend of mine. He told me he needed a kicker for this season. He came to my soccer practice, and he asked me if I wanted to kick for the team, so I came to try out and then he liked it."
For Silva — captain of the SMC men's soccer team — the sudden call to play American football was a unique experience, considering that in his home country of Brazil, American football is not exactly a popular pastime.
"No one knows about it," he said. "I didn't either before I came here."
But once he donned the mantle of the Corsairs football team, like a warrior preparing for battle, Silva tried to learn the basics of the new zone he was about to enter.
"All my friends love the game," he said. "They taught me all the rules and all the basics."
Silva had to learn quickly because, as he put it, in between being asked to join the football team and learning how the game works, he had very little time.
"This is my last semester before I transfer next year, and I am taking a lot of units right now," he said. "It's been hard for me to come here and practice and study. Over the weekends, I don't go out anymore."
The first night he was to set foot on the field as a football kicker, Silva felt the pressure. After his inaugural kick, he faced the fury of a football game for the first time.
"One of the guys from the other team came to tackle me, and I was like, 'What the hell are you doing?'" Silva said. "I didn't know the rules, and then one of my teammates told me, 'No, if he comes to tackle you, you need to tackle him back.'"
His metamorphosis was so unexpected that, back home in Rio, his family was shell-shocked, and they posted pictures of Silva in his football gear all over Facebook.
"It was hard because everyone was looking at me expecting me to kick farther because I'm a soccer player," Silva said. "I had friends telling me, 'You'll be fine, don't worry, just kick it as far as you can toward the end zone.'"
Silva said he now feels at ease with his role on the football team and continues to juggle responsibilities between teams.
Silva has been playing soccer since he was 5 years old, playing semi-professionally when he grew older.
But in Brazil, the land of Pele, soccer is not played at the college level, so Silva has found a haven at SMC. Now fate has given him new tools for advancement with his duel identity on the field.
"It helps with getting scholarships because you can get more scholarships with football than with soccer," he said. "I will try to keep training as a kicker."
Soccer remains Silva's great passion. The pressure of football does not sting like the frustrations with his game of choice, he said.
To Silva, his greatest struggle this year was when SMC's soccer team faced off with Moorpark College, and lost after numerous failed chances at scoring.
After a whirlwind semester of dueling sports and college applications, Silva is preparing for another epic journey catching the 2014 World Cup back home in Rio, a fitting epilogue for a memorable streak.