Notre Dame High graduate John Popham from Nashville recently sent an email to say that fellow Irish athlete and Chattanooga Mocs kicker Reginaldo “Hegi” Ferreira from the 1960s era has died.
"He passed away this past Saturday, May 16, in Recife, Brazil, where he lived,” wrote Mr. Popham. "He was buried on Sunday. The cause of his death was the coronavirus.”
In a detailed remembrance, Mr. Popham said that Hegi came to Chattanooga from Recife to live with an uncle when he was 12.
"He went to Notre Dame High School, where he was a member of the graduating Class of 1965,” he continued. "Hegi was a very good halfback and defensive back on the Notre Dame football team in a class that included some talented players like Greg McCall, George Hubbuch, Jon Keene, Vic Massari and Prescott Richter.”
Mr. Popham went on to say that it was Hegi's leg that he is best remembered for and made him somewhat of a pioneer in field goal kicking in this area as apparently the first soccer-style kicker.
"Having grown up in Recife playing soccer, Hegi kicked off, kicked PATs and field goals and punted soccer style. No one in this area did that in the early 60s,” he continued. "The NFL did not have its first soccer style kicker until 1964 (Pete Gogolak). There were a few, but not many doing it in college, like Gogolak at Cornell before going to the NFL.
"As a sophomore in 1962, I am pretty sure Hegi was the first high school football soccer style kicker in this area. At least the only one I knew of."
Mr. Popham remembered that the distance from which he could kick with accuracy gave the Irish an edge other teams did not have.
"As a sophomore benchwarmer on the Notre Dame football team when Hegi was a senior, I had a sideline view to watch his kicks versus the traditional straight ahead kickers on the other teams. I remember thinking, ‘How the heck does he do that?’ ” It seemed strange then. Now it would be strange to see someone kick using the old straight ahead style."
He also noted that the press made note of Hegi’s new style of kicking.
"After an upset win over Father Ryan in Nashville in 1962, Edgar Allen of the Nashville Banner wrote, “The difference was the soccer-kicking accuracy of Notre Dame’s Reginald Ferreira, who booted a 27-yard field goal and two perfect extra points.’ ”
"The headlines in the Chattanooga Times following the Irish upset of Bradley Central in the 1962 Power Bowl, handing the heavily favored Bears their first home loss after 26 straight wins, read, ‘Bears' Home String Ended as 26-Ferreira’s Toe Provides Margin.’ ”
"In his game article, Times reporter George Short referred to Hegi’s 'patented soccer-type boot off the side of his foot.' You never saw an article at that time referring to a kicker’s 'straight ahead kicking accuracy' or 'patented straight ahead type boot.’ ”
Mr. Popham remembered that, after graduating from Notre Dame, Hegi kicked for the then-University of Chattanooga Mocs in the 1965 and ’66 seasons and believes he was that school’s first soccer-style kicker as well.
"My father (John Popham) followed the Mocs. Due to his position at the Times, he was able to regularly get us tickets to their games (always the first row just beneath the press box). So I watched Hegi introduce his soccer style to the college game here as well. As a freshman he kicked a 34-yard field goal in the last 10 seconds to give the Mocs an upset 15-14 win over previously unbeaten Xavier.
A follow-up Associated Press article about Hegi was headlined, “Mocs Freshman Kicker Uses Soccer Type Boot,” and noted that “he kicks a football sideways, like a soccer player,” Mr. Popham added.
"Hegi was a nice guy off the field and well liked by his Notre Dame teammates and classmates. I did not go to UC, so I don’t have personal knowledge there, but I believe if asked, his teammates like Rick English, Angelo Napolitano and Roger Catarino would say it was the same at UC.
“And I’ll bet they also have some stories about Scrappy butchering Hegi’s name and trying to adjust to a soccer style kicker from Brazil,” added Mr. Popham. "Sad to hear that this virus got him."