Italy’s 10 team Div. I kicks off season

The Italian Football League Div. I kicks off this weekend with six of the 10 teams in action. The defending champions Milano Seamen, do not make their debut until March 17 when they face the Bolzano Giants.

Dario Aviano from the Italian American Football Federation, FIDAF, has broken down each team and American Football International presents his analysis of each team with a few observations of our own.

The Milano Seamen ended the 2017 season with a stunning and surprising 37-29 Italian Bowl victory over the Milano Rhinos 

And as the new season gets underway, the Seamen have to be considered one of the favorites for the crown. Nevertheless, the nine other teams have added changes and reinforcements and some have undergone dramatic facelifts, including the Rhinos.

Six teams will advance to the playoffs

MILANO SEAMEN

IMPORTS: Xavier Mitchell WR – Luke Zahradka QB – Paul Morant S

HEAD COACH: Michael Wood

The defending Italian champions under new head coach Michael Wood have not made many changes in a powerful roster. With quarterback Luke Zahradka back along with ferocious safety Paul Morant, the Seamen have added Xavier Mitchell at WR. Mitchell was the leading receiver/returner for the Kiel Baltic Hurricanes in 2017  and led the German Football League with 96 receptions for 1,377 yards. He will no doubt thrive with his head coach from the Hurricanes and the University of Kentucky Wesleyan, Marcus Herford, as his offensive coordinator. On the Italian front the most important reinforcement has arrived on defense with the signing of linebacker Roman Vikhnin from the Milano Rhinos.

MILANO RHINOS


IMPORTS: Kevin Ellison QB – Stefano Napolitano LB/FB – Matt Conroy LB

HEAD COACH: Roberto D’Ambrosio

The Rhinos, who dominated the Italian league for the past two seasons, winning the 2016 title and reaching the 2017 final, will have a different look this year. Gone is head coach Chris Ault along with QB TJ Pryor and the Pistol Offense. New head coach Roberto D’Ambrosio has brought in Kevin Ellison, quarterback from Georgia Southern (NCAA Div. I). On paper Ellison should be similar to Pryor, adding a good ability to run with a solid arm. To support Ellison in attack on offense is fullback Stefano Napolitano,  who also plays linebacker. As a third import the Rhinos will rely on RB/LB Matt Conroy, who played for the Giaguari Torino in 2017. The loss of a number of quality Italian players including national team WR Tommaso Finadri who returned to the Parma Panthers, could prove costly for the Rhinos.

PARMA PANTHERS


IMPORTS: Kris Duhram WR – Brett McMakin LB

Head coach: Andrew Papoccia

The Parma Panthers were supposed to be in a rebuilding year in 2017 and yet again found themselves in the semifinals, losing a  tight game to the eventual champions, the Milano Seamen. With the return of key players such as WR Tommaso Finadri who will again team up with his longtime QB Tommaso Monardi, the Panthers should again contend for the Italian title. The signing of ex NFL WR Kris Duhram (Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans) who played a the University of Georgia, gives Parma a potent aerial attack. LB Brett McMakin from the University of Northern Iowa (NCAA, Div. II) will give an added boost to an already excellent defensive front seven. The defense will also be reinforced with the addition of LB Alex Erioldi and CB Junior De Jesus from the Bolzano Giants.

Expect the Panthers to again be in a battle for the gold in Italy.

BOLZANO GIANTS

IMPORTS: John Brown QB – Mark Simone WR – Dejvion Steward S

Head Coach: Argeo Tisma

Head coach Argeo Tisma has reassembled a Giants team that finished with a 7-3 record in 2017 reaching the semifinals where they lost to  the Milano Rhinos. Having signed  a new QB in Jon Brown (Glendale CC), Tisma has re-signed Mark Simone, the second leading receiver in Italy last year. He has also added safety Dejvion Steward (Tiffin University, NCAA, Div. II). New Italian players include CB  Giuseppe Della Vecchia from the Milano Rhinos.

The Giants, with the only American football specific facility in Italy, have not missed the playoffs in Italy since 2010. They will no doubt be playoff contenders again this year.

BERGAMO LIONS


IMPORTS: Cory Soto QB – Kaulana Waalani Arroyo DB / RB – Wilson Ferretti OL / DL

Head Coach: Adam Rita

The rejuvenated Bergamo Lions under second year head coach Adam Rita will look to improve on a 5-5 record in 2017. The Lions  made the playoffs for the  first time since 2014 last year after rebounding from a dismal 1-9 season in 2016. Rita has signed 6’7″ QB Cory Soto  (Lamar University) who played in Spain in 2017.  On defense, true to his Hawaiian roots, Rita has signed DB/RB Kaulana Waalani Arroyo (Fort Lewis College (NCAA Div. II), from Kuaii, Hawaii. With Soto also able to play wide receiver the Lions have backed him up at QB with excellent young Italian Andrea Fimiani who can throw the ball. Offensive/defensive lineman Wilson Ferretti played for the Milano Seamen and will help shore up both sides of the line.

Under the tutelage of one of the Canadian Football League’s legendary names, expect the Lions to be contenders again in 2018.

TORINO GIAGUARI


IMPORTS: Chase Venuto QB – Fabiano Hale RB – Brian Michitti DB

Head Coach: Jason Venuto

Like the Lions, the Torino Giaguari returned to the playoffs last year  for the first time since their return to the top league, and they are aiming to further raise the bar of expectations for 2018.  Despite losing their starting import QB last year after only one game, the Jaguars showed their mettle in making the playoffs.

Coach Venuto (ex NFL QB, Baltimore Colts) has signed son Chase Venuto at QB and with good reason. The younger Venuto  played for UTA Pesaro in 2017 and knows the league well. Defensively, the Jaguars have added Brian Michitti, who played for the Schwabisch Hall Unicorns helping them reach the German final in 2016 and for the Lazio Marines. Fabiano Hale completes the picture, a running back from Cal-Berkely (NCAA, Div. I).

The Jaguars could be a dark horse this season.

ANCONA DOLPHINS


IMPORTS: Josh Dean QB – Fellon Misher DB – Nicholas Suppa LB / RB

HEAD COACH: Roberto Rotelli

The Ancona Dolphins, while not making the playoffs last season, were still the best team from southern Italy. Coach Rotelli will rely on Swiss championship QB Josh Dean, formerly of the Calanda Broncos. Dean from Willamete University (NCAA Div. II) will help to rejuvenate an offense that struggled at times in 2017. The Dolphins have also signed Italian LB Nicholas Suppa formerly of the German champions, the Schwabisch Hall Unicorns. RB/DB Fellonte Misher (Old Dominion, Div. I) will display his versatility playing both sides of the ball.

LAZIO DUCKS


IMPORTS: Hans Fortune QB – Mike Gentili RB – Herbert Gamboa DB

Head Coach: Bart Iaccarino

The new head coach and director of football operations for the Lazio football club, Bart Iaccarino has returned to his roots and merged the Roma Grizzlies with the Marines. The new Lazio Ducks will feature All American QB Hans Fortune (Puget Sound University, Div. III) with Mike Gentili at RB. Iaccarino worked his magic in Spain guiding the Reus Imperials from the depths of the ranks in Spain up to the Spanish championship game in 2017.

Will the merger of the clubs in Rome produce the same kind of transformation in Italy?

UTA PESARO


IMPORTS: Alex Germany QB/S – Tyren Quinn S

Head Coach: Giorgio Gerbaldi

In 2017 the UTA Pesaro in their first year in Italy’s top division managed to put together two wins and retain their spot. This season under coach Gerbaldi the team intends to improve on that. The club has signed Alex Germany to play QB and brought in safety Tyren Quinn (University of Kentucky, NCAA Div. I). If Germany struggles, Gerbaldi can turn to Italian QB Aldo Fiordoro who stepped in last season at times.

Nevertheless, the Pesaro will be hard pressed to survive in this year’s ultra competitive Italian league.

FLORENCE GUELFI


IMPORTS: Anthony Dawson QB – Mike Vannucci WR – Nicholas Holson DB

Head Coach: Brett Morgan

The surprise team of the 2018 campaign in Italy by well be the Griffins from Florence. Although the team only scraped together two wins in 2017  New head coach Brett Morgan joins a close-knit group. The keys of the Guelfi offense will be entrusted to Anthony Dawson, a quarterback from Houston Baptist University. With a bevy of excellent receivers, the team from Tuscany could be a real dark horse. WR Mike Vanucci is back and led the Italian league in receiving yardage with 882 yards in 2017. Safety Nicholas Holson from Concordia University in Canada will help bolster the defense. The Guelfi proved they can put points up last season but now they will need improve on defense to have a chance of remaining among Italy’s top 10 teams.

AFI
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