American Football is now a global sport, being played in over 80 countries in the world. As a football player, I take great pride in the expansion of the sport internationally. But I wasn’t always aware of the worldwide landscape of the sport, and had my own issues in learning the ins and outs of football in Europe during my season in Italy. If you have read my article Tackling Culture: My Football Experience in Europe, you might be under the impression that things came easy to me during my travels in Europe. That would be far from the truth, but let me be a little more specific with a detailed recount of my sophomore season in Europe.
I honestly thought my one season in Europe was going to be the only story I would have. As I was settling into my adult life in 2012, I was contacted by a former coach and friend, Devan Moylan. He was coaching on a team in Italy and asked if I wanted to play for him. I said sure, when does the season start, and he promptly told me that I would need to fly out in 2 weeks. I was hesitant at first, I had just purchased a new car and was enjoying a certain type of lifestyle. But after talking to my family and receiving their blessings, I told coach I was in. I had a brief discussion with the team recruiter and received a competitive contract to play for the Lazio Marines in 2012. I was on my way to Rome, Italy!!!
LANDING IN ITALY
I remember arriving in Switzerland the year before, to a bright sun and staying outside soaking up that warmth in my first hours in Europe. This was NOT Switzerland. I can’t say I have too many vivid memories of my arrival in Italy, just that it was a new level of cold for me. Because of the timing of my flight, I was taken to meet some team officials, then straight to practice. I watched the practice in awe of how many players were participating and how much more like college it looked than my previous team. After practice I was introduced to some of my teammates and travelled with my American counterparts to our shared house. It was dark, so I didn’t get a good look at the house, but I was shown to my room which had neither a heater or blanket in it. Like I said previously it was COLD!! It took me three days to get a heater and blanket in my room, as I slept in my Jacket until I received some proper bedding.
If you have ever met me, you know I HATE the cold (funny that I know reside in Finland). This was still true during my time in Italy, so I can admit that the first few weeks of practice I was not at my best. Even with that being the case, I was never a liability and held my own against my teammates and other imports. A few weeks before our season opener, the Defensive Coordinator (The coach who asked me to come to Italy) asked to talk to me about some things. Devan told me that the Lazio Marines were thinking of sending me back to the United States because of my practice performance. Devan suggested that the reasoning was that I wasn’t making big plays in practice and that I wasn’t the guy that the team recruiter originally wanted on the team in the first place.
I immediately had a wide range of feelings. Anger at the team for not telling me anything, but having to hear it from my friend. I was upset that I was being accused of not being good enough in PRACTICE, not the game, but PRACTICE where the Italians avoided passing the ball my way at all costs (I played cornerback). Mostly I was scared that I would have to go back to the United States as a failure who wasn’t good enough? But ultimately I felt determined to prove the organization wrong about what they thought about me.
FOOTBALL IN ITALY
Despite my difficult start, I played well for the Lazio Marines as both a defensive and offensive weapon. Unfortunately, that was not enough to make us a good team. As much as I tried to help my team, we found ourselves on the losing end much more often than I would have liked. Offensively I totalled 15 touchdowns as a running back, wide receiver, and quarterback, while being responsible for 35 tackles and 4 interceptions defensively. In ten games, that isn’t too shabby and made for a pretty good highlight film.
In my opinion, Italy had some of the best competition I had ever seen. Not from the native Italians though, but as far as the American imports. Every week I played against some great American skill positions on both sides of the ball.
Therefore, my second season in Europe had a different routine to it. Along with my fellow American teammates, the gym was a daily occurrence. There was no time to rest when you knew any week you could be facing someone better than you, so we stayed on the grind. At the time, all I knew about doing my own workouts was to maximize time in the gym by hitting every body part I could. I would like to thank Kellen Pruitt for showing me how to make my workouts more efficient without having to be in the gym for eight hours. As the weather got warmer, we turned to outdoors workouts to get a little sun and take in the beautiful views.
When we were not in the gym, we spent time discussing game strategy and watching film for hours to prepare for our upcoming opponents. It was very convenient that our Americans who served as Offensive and Defensive Coordinators lived at the same residence of the players. We spent 2 days a week on the practice field and trained very hard every week. We lived a football life that everyone could enjoy!
In a football league where you are allowed 2 American imports on the field at the same time, it is very import to HAVE those imports. In 2012, the Lazio Marines had the worst luck in that department. Due to injuries, we went through 3 different American quarterbacks in that season. This lead to a lot of inconsistencies in our offensive production. Eventually our Head Coach was fired midseason, and KP(Kellen Pruitt) and I had to play both offense and defense without much help. Obviously, this is not a recipe for success, but you must play with the hand you are dealt.
LIFE IN ROME
The Lazio Marines placed us imports in a beautiful beach house in Torvaianica, about 30 minutes outside of Rome. Between five Americans we had 2 cars to use for transportation to get around the city. We found out very quickly that efficiency was key when traveling into the city because of the gas prices at the time. Because of the beach house location, we had very limited access to internet which forced us to have alternative forms of entertainment. This would be the summer that I read the entire Hunger Games series as well as a few other novels to occupy my time. But it was not all down time when football was not being played or studied.
Did I mention we lived in a beach house? So naturally we threw a party or two to let our new friends enjoy the view and Mediterranean Sea breeze. We took the occasional stroll on the topless beaches to check out the scenery. I think I became a wine expert while riding the train into Rome. There was an English Bar named Scholar’s where the weekly Karaoke included us Americans singing “Young, wild, and free”. Being American and a part of the football team did help to make sure that I never paid an entry fee to any of the clubs in Rome. We focused on football and trying to win games for hours, but made sure to enjoy ourselves when the opportunities presented themselves.
Rome was an awesome experience, as an American. I met some life-long friends that I will always stay in contact with, but there were some opportunities lost. The three to four months I spent in Rome, I was never offered a view of the city from a local. I only went to see the tourist sites in my last two weeks there. I never went to the Vatican. Our teammates were great people and even some were friends, but rarely spent time with us outside of football activities. It was very similar to living in an Americanized bubble in Italy. Even when we went out into Rome, we found ourselves connecting with other Americans or foreigners, rather than native Italians.
HAVE A CAFÉ!
Never in my life have I seen so much coffee consumed than in Italy (and I live in Finland). From my experience in Italy, if you entertain someone you offer them coffee and have some yourself. This coffee is so strong it would be the equivalent of an expresso shot in the states. I did not spend much time visiting Italians, but there was a small café outside of our practice field. The Italians used this the same way as they would their own home. When someone arrived at the café before practice, they were offered a café. Then another person would arrive and be offered a café as well, and this continued until it was time to practice. I witnessed one of my teammates take 6 shots of expresso before a football practice!
ITALIAN FOOD IS THE BEST
No, I didn’t have traditional Italian dishes all the time while in Italy. When I was out and about I ate the pizza slices and gelato. The difference was that the quality of these slices and scoops was restaurant style of the states, for corner store prices in Rome. A red wine that would sell for $25 in the states is 3€? Yes, please! I was fortunate enough to experience a real Pizza buffet, where various pizzas are brought out to be eaten until you tell the cook to stop. I’m not talking that CiCi’s Pizza crap like in the states, but restaurant quality pizzas for as long as you want. We started dinner at 5:30 pm and finished near 11 pm, full and happy.
I was treated to a full course Italian dinner by one of my good Italian friends, while visiting Naples. I honestly do not remember how many courses there were, but I felt like it never ended. Being a simple minded American I said yes to every dish and overate each one. By the last dish I was laying on a couch moaning in pain, actual pain. I busted a blood vessel in my cheek, that turned into a bruise the next day. Was it worth the pain? Hell, yea it was! Best meal I have ever had and I will always remember the day that food won and I lost.
ITALIANS ARE AMERICANS
Yea, you read it correctly. The consensus I have received from my own experience and others is that Italians think they are the best in the world. It’s like looking into a mirror! In my brief time living in Italy, the natives were very exclusive. If you went to the truly Italian spots, you had to know an Italian to be treated properly. If not, you were likely to be ignored. When speaking to teammates about general issues they always seemed to work in how great their country was, how Italians are responsible for so much in the world, and other bragging rights that no one asked to know about.
I could be stubborn and just say Italians are self-centered and arrogant, but that would just make ignorant to my own nationality. With their history and accomplishments, the Italians have the right to feel like they are the best, but how dare they boast? As an American I understand their patriotism and won’t knock it.
THE SOPHOMORE SEASON EFFECT
My second year in Europe truly was a life changing experience. It was not all roses and I learned that there are other cultures that think they live life the best. I made great friends and experienced a simpler lifestyle. The football was decent, but the experience I gained in Italy helped me grow as a person. Grazie, Italia!