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Elliott: Football isn't rocket science, but Stags' Alessandro Maiuolo is getting his kicks – Yahoo News

Despite its elaborate schemes and formations and Xs and O's, football isn’t rocket science.
But Claremont-Mudd-Scripps kicker Alessandro Maiuolo is, essentially, a rocket scientist, one of his many impressive academic and athletic achievements at a school that prizes math, science and engineering studies yet leaves room for students to nourish body and soul.
As a member of Harvey Mudd College’s Amateur Rocketry Club, the senior from the Bay Area city of Mountain View heads the advanced rocketry team’s recovery subteam, whose job is to get a rocket up and down safely and in one piece. The task requires hundreds of hours of precise planning and detailed calculations. Nothing is left to chance.
But in rocketry, as in life, sometimes the most careful plans go astray.
“We had our first launch in a while last June. It blew up in five seconds,” said Maiuolo, who was named to the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s all-academic team in each of his first three seasons and was the second-team all-conference kicker last season.
“It wasn’t our greatest, but that’s part of being a young person. We’ve got to learn from mistakes. I wouldn’t say it was time wasted just because the rocket didn’t fly. Things don’t usually work on the first try, and that’s one of the first lessons you learn as an engineer.”
Maiuolo, chosen the SCIAC specialist of the week for the third time this season after he kicked a career-best 54-yard field goal in the Stags’ 41-3 rout of Cal Lutheran on Oct. 15, has realized that the persistence, patience and problem-solving required in engineering apply, in different forms, to football.
“They both have life lessons in them, so maybe they intersect on a higher level,” Maiuolo said during a week off for the Division III Stags, who are 3-0 in conference play and 5-1 overall heading into Saturday’s game at Whittier.
“Teamwork, and being able to adapt to change, being able to overcome adversity. Things don’t work our way at first and that’s true in engineering: The first prototype pretty much never works, and you’ve got to get used to that. And in football, sometimes the first few things we try against a team won’t work and we have to adapt, whether that’s throughout the game or at halftime, making big adjustments. There’s a lot of overlaps in that sense.”
As a freshman in 2018, Maiuolo kicked three field goals to help the Stags beat Chapman and clinch the conference title. After his freshman and sophomore years he did bioengineering research; when COVID-19 canceled the team’s 2020 season he took a gap year and immersed himself in semiconductors and metrology engineering with Lam Research.
“Intellectually he’s everything you want. He’s got the athletic tools,” coach Kyle Sweeney said. “You don’t normally talk about a kicker being a leader, but even both within the other kickers and specialists he’s just that dependable guy that everybody looks to and kind of leans on. He’s just been great for us.”
Maiuolo, who’s listed at 5 feet 9 and 180 pounds, is the son of a Taiwan-born mother, Tingting Wu, and Italian-born father, Antonio, who met in San Francisco. Alessandro — nicknamed Ale — took classes in Mandarin from age 4 through 17 and is conversant in Italian.
He won a Division 2-A state football title in high school and also wrestled, played soccer, and reached second Dan in taekwondo. He could have gone to a small Division I college football program, he said, but chose Harvey Mudd (over MIT and Carnegie Mellon) because of its academic emphasis and closeness to home.
He plays for the pure love of the game, for the camaraderie and the satisfaction of pushing his body as strenuously as he pushes his mind. There’s something uplifting in that.
“There’s no NFL dreams or semi-pro. The biggest thing is it’s one of my key college experiences,” he said. “I enjoy those 20 hours. It’s not like 20 hours of homework and then I get something out of it. Doing the football activities is my getting stuff out of football.”
He has tried punting and last season added long snapping to his repertoire. A friend persuaded him to compete in the discus, hammer and javelin throws in the SCIAC track and field championships last season just for fun, and he finished fifth, seventh and 13th, respectively.
Through it all, with a heavy schedule that this semester includes working on a diagnostic tool for Tesla’s manufacturing line, serving as a head proctor in the machine shop and filling a research position under the Clay-Wolkin engineering fellowship, he has maintained a 4.0 grade-point average. School officials say only 14 students have graduated from Harvey Mudd with a 4.0 since 1955.
Maiuolo downplayed his unblemished GPA. “Your grades aren’t a perfect reflection of how effective you’re going to be in a certain position,” he said. “I know many people who maybe they have lower GPAs than me but in the fields that they’re involved with they’re much smarter than me. It’s not very indicative of who I am as a student.”
But it hints at who he is as a person — intelligent, analytic, an attentive listener who’s eager to collaborate for the success of the team.
“He doesn’t just worry about his part. He’s thinking of the greater scheme, both when we’re kicking the ball and as a team,” Sweeney said. “He’ll say, ‘Here’s a game situation that could come up.’ He’ll say, ‘What do you want me to do here? What should we do there?’
“I think he’s a great representative of what our guys are, what our individuals are, as part of our team and what we’re striving to be. You can be competitive on the field and the academic side of it.”
His college football career is nearing an end, with three regular-season games, possibly a conference championship game, and a game in Italy in May remaining. His pursuit of rocketry is winding down, too. He accepted a post-graduation job at AMD in computer engineering, which isn’t related to rocketry.
But he’s planning one more try at getting a rocket up and flying in a competition next spring. No matter what happens to that project, this remarkable rocket scientist, dreamer and football player will soar.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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