When Baylor School kicker Henrique Ribeiro was growing up in Brazil, he saw films on the United States and American football games.
However, he never pictured himself wearing a uniform with all the pads.
With the accomplishments he has already experienced after becoming involved with the Baylor team basically by chance last fall, plenty of people may be watching him on future films and TV broadcasts as a college kicker.
The senior from Sao Paulo had a 57-yard field goal at Bradley Central on Aug. 26, and against rival McCallie on Sept. 23, he made a 52-yarder that cleared the bar with as much space as one usually sees on a PAT.
And Friday night at Brentwood Academy, he had a chance to tie the game late with a 54-yard attempt, but the kick fell just a little short. As a result, top-ranked Baylor lost its first game of the season after six straight wins.
Ribeiro has been like an additional weapon on both offense and defense, as most of his kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks as well and forced the opponents to start a drive at their own 20-yard line.
“He has made a big difference in our team this year,” said Baylor coach Phil Massey. “I’ve been coaching 26 years and he’s by far the strongest kicker I’ve had.
“And he’s a great kid. He’s adapted really well.”
For Ribeiro, the experience has been almost surreal.
“It’s been fun and very exciting,’ he said. “I never pictured myself wearing a football uniform.”
Ribeiro had learned about Baylor through a mutual acquaintance of both one of his parents and Red Raider boys’ soccer coach Curtis Blair.
A goalie in soccer, he was at the age where he would have to start playing for a club team in Brazil and practicing twice a day and going to night school, all with the hopes of becoming a pro.
Ribeiro said he felt making the pro soccer level in Brazil might be hard, and he was not sure he wanted to quit going to school during the day. So when he heard about Baylor, he and his family thought that might be a good opportunity for him to continue going to a regular school and playing soccer competitively.
And the fact that he already spoke English well, despite Portuguese being the national language in Brazil, made the transition easier.
But what he did not expect was also to immerse himself fully in another aspect of American culture – football.
When he quietly arrived in the fall of 2010 as the latest of a number of South American students who have attended Baylor as boarding students dating back decades, he was a manager for the girls’ soccer team.
Even in that seemingly inconspicuous position, however, observers soon noticed how far he could kick a soccer ball. Word quickly spread around campus, and the football coaches invited him to try out as a kicker.
So after a weekend of kicking a football for the first time as part of a fun dorm activity, he tried out for the football team as a kicker in only his third week of being in school. A place was soon found for him, although it was still slightly inconspicuous.
“Last year I only did kickoffs and I thought that was going to be it for me,” he recalled with a laugh.
This year, he has done extra points – making 27 of 28 – in addition to kicking field goals, with former kicker Andy Priddy now handling the punting duties.
Ribeiro said he actually finds the field goals easier than the extra points.
“I get nervous more for the PATs than the long field goals,” he said, adding that he feels a stronger obligation to make those.
But when he attempts the field goals, opposing coaches are the ones likely getting nervous.
Ribeiro said that when he tries a field goal or extra point, he simply imagines that he is at practice with no one else there.
The technique has apparently worked, as after the 57-yarder at Bradley, Ribeiro’s reputation quickly reached almost legendary status. And word of his skills has now spread to a number of colleges.
“He’s getting a little attention from the schools now,” said coach Massey. “That will continue to pick up once the word gets out about him.”
Coach Massey said he first asked Ribeiro if he were interested in playing college football before talking with the coaches. However, Ribeiro jokingly said his coach has not yet shared with him all the schools interested to keep him focused on Baylor’s season.
But Ribeiro is interested in receiving a football offer.
“That would be good,” he said.
While the Baylor kicker now knows plenty about American football and the passion people have for it, he admits it is still different from soccer in Brazil, which has been as successful on the world stage over the last few decades as the New York Yankees have been in baseball.
“Soccer in Brazil doesn’t compare to any sport in America,” he said. “Here you have seasons. In Brazil, soccer is year-round.”
Despite the differences in the sports, he is enjoying being in the United States and has admittedly found his place at Baylor, and not just on the football or soccer fields.
“I’m glad I came here,” he said. “It was a good choice. I get to meet all these new people and friends from all over the place.
“It’s a wide range of people I would have never met. I think the people are the best part about coming to Baylor.”