When a Tulane University kicker arrived in the United States as an exchange student, football was a foreign sport. Now, it's probably going to be his career.
On Thursday, Cairo Santos was given the Lou Groza award, which is the highest honor a college-level kicker can receive and a strong indicator of NFL prospects.
According to the Bleacher Report, Santos was just 15 when he arrived in Florida as a foreign exchange student from Brazil. He planned to stay in the U.S. for a year and hoped to learn English in that time.
Santos had never played American football in his life -- although he was a dedicated soccer player back in Brazil -- but tried to play along with the other boys in his class at St. Augustine, reported Yahoo Sports.
Santos jokingly attempted a 20 yard field goal -- standard distance for an extra point after a touchdown in the NFL -- and made it.
His classmates became instantly excited because their high school team needed a new kicker, but they wanted to test Santos' distance first. In a rare feat even for an NFL player, Santos successfully kicked field goals from 30, 40, and 50 yards.
His spot on the team essentially secured, Santos still didn’t know that he would become the best college kicker in the United States.
During his high school career, Santos kicked a record-breaking field goal of 55 yards and punted skillfully -- 67 of his 72 kickoffs were touchbacks. Colleges began to recruit him right away, but he decided to stay with his host family for another year and graduate from high school in Florida, reported Yahoo Sports.
"My dad really supported me," Santos told the news source. "He was really happy. My mom cried a lot."
At Tulane University, Santos continued to shine. He won Conference USA All-Freshman honors in 2010. As a junior this season, he kicked a 57-yarder – the longest field goal in Tulane history.
"He has such a fluent swing," says University of Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis to Yahoo Sports, who has known Santos since high school. "It's amazing how much power he gets into each kick."
After a perfect season -- making 21 of 21 attempts -- Santos found himself in West Palm Beach, Fla., for the 2012 Home Depot College Football Awards ceremonies on Thursday.
Santos stood on stage with fellow finalists, Florida's Caleb Sturgis and Florida State's Dustin Hopkins, as legendary NFL kicker and former New Orleans Saint Morten Andersen presented him with the 21st Groza Award.
"I'm thankful and very honored to be with these two guys and to be on the same stage with all of these great players and coaches," Santos said at the ceremony, reported the Times Picayune.
Host Chris Fowler asked Santos about a key moment in the season when he had to make a 57-yard field goal in order to keep his winning streak.
"I'm just very thankful that I have a coach [Curtis Johnson] who trusts me," Santos told the newspaper. "All I could think about was the kick going through."
Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson told Conference USA:
"Cairo is a fantastic guy and very deserving of this honor after all the hard work he put into this past season. Whatever he says he can do and it's unbelievable to have a young man who was able to overcome all the distractions we had this season and put together a perfect season. It's tough to be perfect in anything, but Cairo did it. He's very important to us and to our program and I am very happy for him."
According to Bleacher Report, current NFL kickers Sebastian Janikowski, Mike Nugent, Kai Forbath and Dan Bailey are all past winners of the award.