The Brazilian Who Gave Up Soccer for Football

Santos converted 25 of 30 field goal attempts in 2014
Santos converted 25 of 30 field goal attempts in 2014

This autumn Wembley Stadium hosts three more NFL International Series games.

By the time the third and final game, Kansas City Chiefs vs Detroit Lions, kicks off on November 1 there will be one player on the field fulfilling his lifelong dream.

Standing at just 5ft 8in tall and weighing a mere 174lbs, Cairo Santos isn’t your average American Football player. Santos was born in Brazil. Growing up in Sao Paolo, like most Brazilian boys, he wanted to become a football player, but not the kind of football player he is now. “I grew up dreaming of becoming a soccer player and now I call myself a professional football player”, said Santos on his visit to London this week. “The ultimate goal is to become a professional athlete and I get to do that.”

“Ronaldinho was my native hero, but Frank Lampard was my favourite player growing up.” Forget Big Ben, the London Eye, or Buckingham Palace, Santos made Stamford Bridge his first destination when he landed in England. “I was a midfield player in Brazil and worshipped Lampard. I loved watching Chelsea and England playing.”

The Kansas City Chiefs’ kicker completed his rookie season in 2014. The 24 year old didn’t start playing the game until nine years ago. “I moved to the US to learn English when I was 15. I discovered football through the culture and my friends convinced me to give it a go because they saw that I could kick a ball and their team needed a kicker.”

It wasn’t long before a few talent scouts spotted his ability to kick the oblong-shaped ball as he adapted to his new life in Florida. “I started to get pretty good at it, a few talent scouts spotted me and I worked hard on getting a scholarship. Tulane were interested me and I ended up there. The rest is history.”

Santos received interest from Georgia Tech in Jacksonville and Miami University, but he moved to Tulane in Louisiana. He played in all 12 games during his freshman year and was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team. 2012 was his breakout season as he went 26 of 27 on point after conversions (his only miss was blocked) and a perfect 21 of 21 on field goals including a school record 57-yard field goal. “I did it (play American Football) just through curiosity, so I could tell my friends and family about it back home.”

He signed for the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in May 2014. During his rookie season he converted 25 of 30 field goal attempts, “I was pleased with how the season went. I could have played a bit better and I know the kicks that I missed were down to lack of experience and the cold conditions in Kansas. But I know what to expect from the crowd and the windy conditions, so I’m looking forward to the new season.”

And he’ll get to fulfil his ambition of playing at Wembley Stadium this coming season, “watching Frank Lampard play for England and Chelsea at Wembley I always wanted to go there.” Although he’s playing a different kind of football nowadays he’ll relish his moment on the field of England’s national stadium, “I still get soccer emotions running out in the field. Kicking a field goal is very much like taking a free kick in the 90th minute. The emotions are similar”.

“We get to visit Wembley the day before the game and I can’t wait to have a moment all to myself and reflect on how far I’ve come.” Santos has also examined Chelsea’s fixture list and highlighted their game at home to Liverpool just 24hrs before his Chiefs team take on the Detroit Lions, “I’m hopeful that I will be allowed to sneak out and watch that game.”

Cairo Santos was speaking at the NFL’s Play 60 touch football tournament near Central London, an initiative set up by NFL UK to introduce youngsters in the city to the sport. Six schools from the London Borough took part in the Summer Bowl tournament where each team was coached by an NFL player. A player from each of the teams playing in London this autumn visited the UK on a promotional tour for the International Series.

The Kansas City Chiefs play their home games at Arrowhead Stadium. They host the Detroit Lions on November 1 at Wembley Stadium. Last October the Lions beat the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley in dramatic circumstances by kicking a field goal in the last second of the game. The Lions won 22-21.

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