Martin Gramatica was nine years old when he and his family arrived in LaBelle, Fla. from Argentina in 1985.
It did not take him long to discover the many differences between the United State and the country he left behind.
The contrast was such that Gramatica knew he wanted to someday return the favor. One example of that exists through the Gramatica Foundation, which the former NFL kicker, along with middle brother, Bill, and youngest brother, Santiago, founded and operate.
The foundation, launched in 2012, builds and rehabs energy-efficient homes for combat-wounded veterans.
“We come from a country that does not have near the amount of freedoms that we have in this country,” he said. “We appreciate those freedoms and the men and women who have given their lives for those freedoms. This is a way to say ‘thank you’ and show our military how much we appreciate everything they do for us.”
The foundation is among many endeavors that keep the 44-year-old Gramatica busy. He and his brothers, each a Tampa resident, also founded Gramatica SIPS International. The 12-year-old Structural Insulated Panel Systems firm provides a full line of services in promoting environmentally-friendly building materials, which have been used to help the foundation.
Even with his business interests, the husband and father of three (ages 8 to 14) still gets his kicks coaching his children’s soccer teams. He is also an analyst on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Spanish radio broadcasts and has a radio show offering opinions and commentary on the team with which he began his NFL career.
A third-round selection of the Bucs out of Kansas State, Gramatica spent the first five of his 10 years in the NFL with the team, including the Super Bowl-winning season of 2002. While he keeps in touch with many former teammates, especially those who remain in the Tampa Bay region, being in the booth has allowed him to reconnect.
“I followed how the Bucs did and watched every game I could,” said Gramatica, who is in his third season as an analyst and paired with play-by-play man Carlos Bohorquez. “It wasn’t easy. Weekends can be hectic with the kids playing soccer and running around to different things. Since I am at the stadium and in the booth, I feel like part of the team again.”
Gramatica can also be heard weekday mornings on a sports radio program. Hosted by veteran Tampa Bay sports broadcaster Rock Riley, The Martin Gramatica Show originates out of a Tampa studio with a video simulcast on zliving.com.
The program is yet another endeavor that keeps Gramatica occupied in his post-playing career, and perhaps more so than he ever thought.
Early in his NFL career Gramatica did think much about the next chapter in his life. Tony Dungy helped change that. The Buccaneers coach was heavily involved with charitable organizations, something that rubbed off on his kicker.
“Coach Dungy is amazing when it comes to making you a better person,” said Gramatica, who went to the Pro Bowl following the 2000 season and also played for the Colts, Cowboys and Saints. “He trusts you as a man, which is why there were not many (team) rules, but you knew what the rules were and you knew what he expected from you. When I see him I tell him, ‘I had you as my first NFL coach and I compared every coach I had to you.’ It was tough to go from coach Dungy to anybody else. He was awesome to play for.”
So was Bill Snyder.
Gramatica did not expect to play football, let alone in college. He spent much of his youth playing soccer and helping out at the family’s pizza restaurant. He only played his senior year at LaBelle High School, and that was simply to help a team that was relying on an offensive lineman to do the place kicking.
The spring following his lone season, and very late in the recruiting process, Gramatica worked out for a high school coach in Naples, about an hour southwest of LaBelle. The coach knew then-Kansas State co-defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, whose recruiting territory included southwest Florida and whose Wildcats needed a kicker. One thing led to another and Gramatica, who had a little interest from Notre Dame, was on his way to the Little Apple in the summer of 1994.
Among Gramatica’s many highlights at Kansas State was winning the Lou Groza Award (nation’s top kicker) in 1997, a season in which he drilled a 65-yard field goal against visiting Northern Illinois. It is tied for the fourth-longest field goal in NCAA history and is the longest without a tee, which effective 1988 was no longer permitted on field goal and conversion attempts.
“Coach Snyder was like a father with his guidance and leadership,” he said. “He was like Tony Dungy, a similar personality in that he wanted us to be better men when we left his program. Football was secondary. It was about being better people and better students.”
Leavitt left Kansas State following the 1995 season. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Leavitt returned to his home state to become the first coach at the University of South Florida, which played its inaugural season in 1997. That proved beneficial to Bill and Santiago, who followed in Martin’s footsteps in becoming college kickers.
Bill, who spent his freshman year at Florida State, transferred to USF in 1998 to play under Leavitt. As a senior in 2000, he booted a 63-yard field goal against Austin Peay that stands as the longest in the program’s history. He was drafted by the Cardinals and spent four seasons in the NFL.
Santiago arrived at USF in 2001 and made it seven straight years of a Gramatica kicking for the Bulls. Not bad considering neither brother expected to go to college, until Martin left for Kansas State.
“Before Martin went to college, it wasn’t even a thought for us,” said Santiago, 37. “We had the restaurant growing up and we really did not know what the future held. We transitioned to football once Martin started playing the sport. Then when he went to college, there was no doubt that Bill and I were going. That was our goal.”
Bill and Santiago looked up to Martin, who as the older brother routinely set examples for his siblings.
“Martin was kind of a father figure early on and he has been the glue holding together the bond among us,” said Bill, 42. “Santiago and I saw the amount of work required to make it to the next level. Now, in the business world, we are still doing everything the only way we know how and that is to push each other to be better.”
The bond between the brothers was vital years ago and remains vital today.
“We have always helped each other,” said Martin. “It was nice that we all kicked because, mentally, we all knew what a kicker goes through. Today, we help each other with business. We all have our own lives with families and taking our kids to sporting events and stuff like that, but we always find a way to be there for each other.”