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Fútbol is life? How the Olanos became a football family

Like most Colombian families, fútbol is the family sport for the Olano family. Gustavo Olano‘s father was a great soccer player and played for the reserves team of the Millonarios Futbol Club in Bogotá, for whom Gustavo’s uncle was a team doctor as well. Gustavo was a pretty good player himself, and the family was season-ticket holders for the Millonarios games.

Even though he’s lived in the United States for 24 years, Gustavo still plays the game weekly and watches the sport often. His oldest of two sons, Pablo, plays college soccer at Division-II Mount Olive in North Carolina, and his youngest son, David Olano, has played soccer for most of his life. Gustavo and his boys routinely would play full-length games in the community on Sundays. So, yes, “fútbol is life” kind of resonates in the Olano family.

“Everyone in my family played soccer, and soccer was always around,” Gustavo said. “That’s coming from Columbia. That’s what you see the most. Of course, when the two boys were born, guess what? Soccer was the first option for them, of course, with the passion that we have.”

But after almost a quarter-century in the states — which wasn’t Gustavo and his wife Patricia’s original plan — football, the American version, is taking center stage in the Olano family life. They traded in sparsely-attended midweek high school soccer games for the spectacle of Friday Night Lights in the Chicago suburbs. They canceled a long-planned vacation for a football camp. They traveled across the country for college camps this spring. Soon, two-hour trips south from Naperville to Champaign for University of Illinois football games will become part of the routine.

David Olano has only been playing football for a little more than a year, but the Naperville North native used his soccer kicking skills to become one of the nation’s best football kicker prospects. Last month, he committed to Illinois for a full athletic scholarship after he and his entire family took an official visit to Champaign.

While soccer is still the main sport in the Olano household, American football is quickly becoming a big part of the family too.

“Soccer runs really far in my family,” David Olano said. “…I always thought it was going to be something I would do. But obviously, with the way everything has gone, I thought I would kind of just stop soccer and go full into football, which I don’t regret. Soccer is a huge part of my family, but now that they’ve seen and been around on my official visit [to Illinois]it’s now soccer and football, it’s awesome to see.”

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Gustavo Olano admits he was an impediment to David joining football at first. David originally approached his father about playing America’s most popular sport when he was 12 years old. Though Gustavo had nothing against a sport he first learned about when he lived in Korea for about six months as a child, he thought David had a natural talent for soccer and didn’t want David to get hurt playing football and potentially derail his bright soccer future.

But four years later, David — who along with his brother, Pablo, was born in Miami (Fla.) — pushed his father again to let him try his native country’s No. 1 sports. This time, David brought a more impassioned plea, and Gustavo was more open to a push from a more mature child.

“Now, I’m talking to a 16-year-old guy and it’s a different approach,” Gustavo said. “He was like, ‘No, Dad, I want to try it.’ I was like I can’t tell him anymore. He’s a young adult, so he will have to make his decision. I decided, ‘Whatever you do, I will support you and let’s go for it.’ That was my reaction initially. This time he was more serious. He was like, ‘I want to do it,’ and we said, ‘We’ll be behind you whatever you do.’ He was coming to me two or three times very serious and with solid arguments about why he wanted to go and so on. So I said, ‘Well, let’s do it.’”

David enjoyed soccer for most of his life. He picked up on the passion for the sport from his father, who came to the US for an MBA program at Boston College and he and his wife stayed unexpectedly when he received a great marketing job opportunity in Miami. But the sport had become less fun for David recently, and he always wanted to try his leg at kicking footballs.

“I thought the same as [my father]. I thought soccer was going to be it,” David said. “It was the sport I played for 13 years now, and he didn’t really think I was going to let it go. But the situation I was in with school soccer wasn’t going the way I thought and everything and with a couple injuries, he kind of let me try it out. Ever since then, I just kept going with it.”

Clearly, it’s turned out incredibly well for David. His football journey started just kicking with some friends. Some parents told Gustavo that David was really good and that he might have a future in football. At first, Gustavo thought they might be embellishing. After all, his son had just started the sport. How could people realistically think he already was a college kicking prospect?

The Olanos then reached out to kicking coach Chris Nendick, a former Northern Illinois kicker who has helped develop many college specialists. After seeing just a handful of kicks from David, Nendick knew David had real potential in the sport.

“I told David and his dad, ‘Gustavo, look, your son has Division-I talent,'” Nendick said. “I’m pretty forthright, and I could see it in about four or five balls total, just based on how they’re coached, how they act, etc. His dad was like, ‘You’re full of crap. Yada, yada, yada. Realistically, he just wants to be good for his high school.’ I looked him dead in the eyes and said, ‘Look, I’m telling you, your son has Division-I talent, he just needs to fine-tune.’ …I saw it maybe five or six total kicks in. I was like, ‘Dude, just trust me, trust the process, it’ll work, it’ll all work out. Sure enough, here he is.”

David then went to kicking camps — and he impressed. Quickly, he emerged on the national scene. One good camp performance earned another camp invitation and another. David even was one of two kickers invited to the 2023 All-American Bowl, which is played at the Alamodome in San Antonio (Texas) on Jan. 7.

The Olano family proved it was all-in on David’s football future when it actually canceled a long-planned trip to Peru last fall so that David could attend a kicking camp. The family gathered to discuss the possibility. Knowing David wanted to go to continue to pursue his athletic dream, the family ruled in favor of canceling the vacation.

“David really wanted to do it,” Gustavo said. “He was very serious that he wanted to do this. So we talked as a family and said, ‘Well, it seems like this is the right place, and we’re going to support you.’ So we decided all together to cancel the vacation, and we told David, ‘We’re going to be behind you whatever you decide to do.’ Then we started to go to camps and then the All-American Bowl happened and then all these camps started to unfold and colleges started to appear. The rest is the story you’re writing now.”

Kohl’s Kicking now ranks David the No. 21 kicker in the Class of 2023, but Chris Sailer Kicking especially likes David, ranking him the No. 1 kicker in the class.

While Nendick said the slender David must add strength, he called David an “elite ball-striker” and accurate field goal kicker. David proved himself further during camps at college camps. Notre Dame offered him a preferred walk-on spot after a camp. A few days later, David shined at an Illinois specialists camp, prompting Illinois to offer a scholarship — which David accepted almost immediately.

“Sky’s the limit for a lot of kids in his shoes,” Nendick said. “He hasn’t really touched the weight room. Yes, he’s been in it, but he hasn’t really touched it. You got to stay healthy, so as long as he can stay healthy and he can continue to get stronger… but 50-yard field goals for him right now with no strength are no issue. …I think in six months, you’re going to see a completely different body type, which is ultimately going to lead to more success.”

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David Olano is the Illini’s first scholarship kicker as a prep prospect since Caleb Griffin in 2018, who joined Illinois as a blueshirt addition and sat behind James McCourt the last four years. When he arrives at Illinois next year, David likely will compete immediately for the 2023 starting job with Griffin (if he decides to return to Illinois for a sixth year of eligibility), transfer walk-on Fabrizio Pinton and freshman walk-on Will McManus.

Gustavo admits there are some downsides to David playing football. His youngest son is so committed to his new sport that David doesn’t watch as much soccer anymore, and he dropped playing the weekly games on Sunday with his father so he can avoid injury and practice kicking the oblong ball.

On the flip side, Gustavo is now learning a lot more about the passion Americans have for football, including his son.

“Now, I’m the one sitting with him watching football and getting to know more and more about what we can do as a family to help him and develop his dream,” Gustavo said. “He was super committed. He was super convinced. He knew what he wanted and he has been pursuing what he wants.”

David said his family is a big reason he actively sought out an opportunity at Illinois and committed to the Illini. His family’s trip to Champaign for the official visit was one of the first times the family was all able to enjoy a football experience together because his older brother Pablo was home from college. Even the family dog ​​made the trip. And how Illinois welcomed the Olanos to their football world only solidified his desire to play for the Illini.

“My family is a huge reason why I committed here,” David said. “To play at home and close to my family, my mom and dad, is super huge. They being only two hours away, they can come and visit me, which I obviously love. My family is ecstatic for me. They’ve gone with me on visits, but they’ve always thought it’s always been here.”

David committed to Illinois on Father’s Day. A free education at a Big Ten university seems to put all other Father’s Day gifts to shame. But for Gustavo, having the whole family in attendance to witness David’s once seemingly crazy dream become a reality was the best gift.

“It couldn’t be any better,” Gustavo said. “Not because of what happened here, but we had the entire family sharing this great moment with him. …Being the four of us, sharing all the experiences.”

Gustavo came to America 24 years ago thinking he and his wife would stay temporarily before returning home to Colombia. A quarter-century later, his family is still heavily influenced by its Colombian roots — especially the obsession with soccer — but they also have embraced their American life.

Football, the sport that is the center of so many lives in this country, is now near the center of Olano family life too. Games on the TV. Attending games on Friday nights, and a new community of friends in Naperville. Soon, attending games on Saturday afternoons in Champaign with a new football family.

Now, fútbol and football are life for the Olanos.

“It’s great that we are exposed to more things and learn more,” Gustavo said. “…There’s a little bit of sadness because we used to play [soccer] the three of us together as a family. Two sons and a father playing together and watching them. That’s the part where I’m not having that anymore. …But on the other end, the biggest part is the happiness of getting to learn such a great game that now you get into the weeds and you learn more and more [about football]. It’s a fantastic game. It’s the biggest game in America, no question.

“We’ve gained a lot. We have gained a lot of good people around us, a lot of good new friends. That’s a game for the family.”

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