Gagliano Gets Kicks Playing
J. Fred Sidhu | November 2, 2018
ARLINGTON, Texas – When section teams competed at the USTA League 40 & Over 3.5 National Championships at the Arlington Tennis Center, their rosters were filled with players from many different backgrounds and occupations.
However, the Southern section men’s team from Germantown, Tenn., was the only team that had a former National Football League player on its roster.
Team member Mark Gagliano, a resident of Collierville, Tenn., played collegiate football in the mid-1990s for Southern Illinois University, where he earned first-team All-American honors as a punter.
“I didn’t start playing football until I was a junior in high school. I was hungry. It was about football and achieving the dream,” Gagliano said.
Gagliano, not only achieved his dream, he excelled at punting. Despite having to kick in harsh weather conditions during his playing days at SIU, Gagliano posted impressive punting numbers.ADVERTISEMENT
“Southern Illinois gave me a great opportunity to go there. To be able to lead the nation in punting in my senior year in 1996, was a dream come true,” he said. “A lot of great teammates put me in that position. I always had a belief in myself. I always felt I had the talent to take it to the next level.”
Gagliano took his football career to the next level, and after finishing at SIU, he spent two years in the NFL, punting for the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals in 1997 and the New England Patriots in 1998.
When asked what he remembered most about his NFL career, Gagliano responded, “Lots of great teammates, lots of great experiences and the attitude and professionalism of all the players. It was overwhelming how great those athletes really are. It’s really something to see. It’s perfection at its best because those guys are the best at what they do.”
During his two years in the NFL, Gagliano had the opportunity to compete against Pro Football Hall of Famers Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Deion Sanders and Randy Moss.
But it was a trip with the New England Patriots south of the border that made the most lasting NFL memory for Gagliano. In 1998, the Patriots faced the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca with over 105,000 fans in attendance.
“The Monday Night game was definitely the highlight of my NFL career,” he recollected.
After his NFL career ended, he pursued a career in aviation. He is currently a pilot for FedEx, the American multinational courier delivery services company.
“That was a 12-year road to make that happen,” said the 44-year-old Gagliano, who plays in flag football, basketball and soccer leagues to stay fit and active.
About two years ago, he received an invitation from a friend to play on a USTA League 3.5 team. It had been 25 years since he had played tennis.
“My dad got me into tennis when I was in the sixth grade. I played through high school and actually went to State (tournament) in high school in doubles. I was a three-sport athlete in high school,” Gagliano said.
“By the time football and basketball were over with, I just picked up my tennis racquet and was out there playing against some good players. Some of those guys played year-round. I had a great experience in high school,” he said.
In only his second year of playing on his USTA League 3.5 team, which is based at the Germantown Country Club, Gagliano and his teammates won the Southern Sectional to advance to the National Championships.
Gagliano has been able to bring his experience and work ethic as a pro football player to his USTA League team. “You have to get out there and put in the time. You can’t be afraid to practice. If you just want to show up for the game, you aren’t going to be successful,” he said.
“Tennis just seemed to be the perfect fit. The USTA does such a great job (with) ratings, participation and different formats,” he added. “It’s such a great experience that I’ve dropped the other three sports to do this. It’s been a ton of fun. The USTA does a great job.”