When taken out of context, listening to Gustavo Simoes talk about football can be quite confusing.

"I played football all the time as a kid in Brazil," the high school senior and Vineyarders center said after practice Monday. "And I had seen football on TV, too, but I never played it until I came here."

Put in context, the confusion is easily sorted out.

Gustavo (or Goose as he is affectionately known at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School), the first Brazilian varsity football player on the Island, is talking about two different sports: his first pastime, soccer - futbol as it is known throughout most of the world - and his new passion, football, American-style.

 

"I love it," he said softly, with a broadening smile. "I like hitting people. You can't do that in soccer."

The six-foot-one, 335-pound lineman will be snapping the ball and crashing into unlucky Whaler defensive linemen one final time tomorrow, closing the book on his two-and-a-half-year journey from South America to the middle of the huddle.

It has been, at times, a struggle.

Arriving on the Vineyard in 2002 at the beginning of his sophomore year, Goose had to tackle not only the rules of a new sport, but also a daunting language barrier.

"He had to basically learn from scratch," head coach Donald Herman said. "He didn't know much English when he walked out onto the practice field for the first time. He overcame a lot to get to this point."

Goose grew up in Vitoria, a city on the Atlantic just north of Rio de Janeiro. He moved in with his grandmother after his father, Antonio, left for the Vineyard 10 years ago; his mother, Angela Maria, followed four years later. Goose came to the Island after his father obtained a green card.

"I didn't like it at first - too cold," he said.

In the summers he works with his father as a cook at Coop de Ville in Oak Bluffs. He said he hopes his two years behind the grill will help him get into Johnson and Wales culinary school next fall. He also plans to return to Brazil in May to visit family and friends.

Dan Rossi, who coached Goose his first year, recently recalled the challenges associated with the young man's introduction to American football.

"Goose was always a funny kid with a lot of heart," he said. "As a center, he had to know certain words and commands, and it took him awhile to get those down. He had a tough time with the snap counts in those days."

Goose also displayed determination and loyalty to his teammates right from the start, Coach Rossi said. He recalled one game during Goose's first year, a scrimmage against New Bedford, when quarterback Ryan Rossi, the coach's son, was the victim of a cheap, late hit.

"Goose saw it and was very upset by it," Mr. Rossi said with a laugh. "He walked up to me, completely straight faced, pointed to the New Bedford player and said, ‘Coach, I kill him now?' We had to calm him down a bit and told him, ‘No, Goose, you don't have to kill him now.'

"It was very funny. Goose has a big heart," he added. "He is very genuine and sincere."

The language barrier was just one obstacle Goose faced. Learning the rules of the game was another.

"The only thing they told me, when I was on defense, was to just go and hit the guy with the ball," he said. "I didn't know anything else."

Even now, he continues to learn the finer aspects of the game.

"Sometimes I still don't know the rules, and I get in trouble," he said.

Goose's warm demeanor has earned him admiration from more than just the team. His popularity with his classmates was evident when he was voted homecoming king several weeks ago.

"They wrote me in," he said with a sheepish smile. "I didn't want to be king, I was mad. Now I don't mind it."

Ask any of Goose's friends or teammates what his best qualities are, and they all spout out the same word: funny. "I enjoy making jokes, I like to be funny," he said.

When asked how he thought his teammates would describe him, the sheepish smile returned.

"They say I'm a big teddy bear," he said.