Martin Gramatica, who spoke no English when he arrived in Florida as a high-schooler, now delivers speeches to students with effortless confidence
According to a recent poll by The Discovery Channel, Americans fear public speaking more than cancer, and just slightly less than drowning. Many people would rather face a tornado than a podium.
But not Martin Gramatica, kicker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Perhaps because his job entails kicking last-second, 50-yard field goals in front of 65,000 screaming fans and a national television audience, Gramatica isn't fazed by the pressure of delivering a speech.
Or maybe it's just that he accomplished the hardest part of speechmaking years ago – learning a brand new language in a foreign country, in a high school where only his own brother understood his native tongue.
In any case, Gramatica's adolescent emigration to the U.S. from Argentina, and the difficulties he faced in trying to succeed in the American education system, made the perfect backdrop for his speaking engagement at St. Raphael's Catholic School on Monday. With an assemblage of roughly 100 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders hanging on his every word, Gramatica discussed the importance of hard work and perseverance in education.
Gramatica began by discussing the trials and tribulations he faced when his family moved from Buenos Aires to LaBelle, Florida.
"When I first came to America, I didn't speak any English," Gramatica. "The only people I could talk to were my brothers and my parents. It was tough, but I worked through it and did well enough in school to earn my degree in social science from Kansas State."
Gramatica also spoke about learning a new sport after focusing exclusively on soccer in Argentina. A standout soccer player in Buenos Aires, he soon found similar success on the gridiron.
"I grew up as a soccer player," said Gramatica, who hopes to coach in his original sport after he finishes his football career. "I didn't play football until my senior year in high school, but I had faith in myself that I could be a good kicker and now I'm kicking in the NFL. It was a lot of hard work to get to this point, but success in any field is not easy."
After running smoothly through his presentation, Gramatica took questions from the St. Raphael students. Though his message on education was surely well-received, the inquiries quickly turned to football.
Among the questions tossed out from the audience: "What was your most memorable moment in the NFL?"
After a contemplative pause, Gramatica answered, "My most memorable moment was being drafted by the Buccaneers. My brother Bill (who now kicks for the Arizona Cardinals) was at USF and my family lived here, so it was kind of a homecoming for me."
The students also wanted to know what it feels like to be on the field during the last seconds of a game, knowing that the outcome hangs in the balance.
"Honestly, it can be pretty scary, but you just have to put everything aside and concentrate on the kick," said Gramatica. "And when you put it through and the Buccaneers win, it's the greatest feeling."
After answering the students' questions and wrapping up his speech, Gramatica was bid farewell with a warm round of applause from the San Raphael students and teachers. It almost felt like he had just kicked a game-winning field goal.