Italian Semifinals: Bolzano Giants OC Daniel Levy explains how his team prepares to face Firenze Guelfi

The Bolzano Giants will play host to the Firenze Guelfi in the Italian semifinals thus Sunday. The Giants finished second in the regular season standings and automatically qualified for the semifinals. They are facing the Firenze Guelfi who finished third but defeated the Torino Giaguari in the wild card round last weekend 31-14.

Dan Levy, who only recently joined the Bolzano Giants as their offensive coordinator, is getting prepared for his first playoff game in Italy.The 34 year old Levy, who is now in his ninth season coaching internationally, and who had been released without explanation by the Prague Black Panthers midway through the 2019 season in Austria after leading them to an undefeated season in 2018 and a championship, explains his situation and how his team is now getting ready to face the Guelfi in the Italian semifinals.

American Football International: You have taken over as OC for the Bolzano Giants and find yourself in the Italian semifinals. What are your thoughts on this transition?

Daniel Levy: It’s been a challenge to say the least, to go through what I went through in Prague in the middle of the season and then switch teams like that. Bolzano contacted me within an hour of the announcement and things just kind of timed up with the situation. I’m excited to be one game away from a national final in spite of everything, and grateful for the opportunity. But it has definitely been one of the toughest challenges I’ve faced in my 9 years of coaching–switching to a new team in a new role in a new country midseason and needing to truly hit the ground running.

AFI: You are facing the top rushing team in Italy with arguably the most versatile football player in Europe in Silas Nacita. How do you game plan for him?

DL: Fortunately for my sanity and sleep I am only responsible for the offense. The combination of not only Nacita but a renowned offensive guru in Art Briles presents a ton of difficulties. Nacita is such a versatile player so you have to account for him all over the field. Now add in a coach like Briles who throws a lot of formations at you and runs an offense that is extremely up-tempo, all of the sudden you not only have to worry about the player and his explosive skillset, but you have to account for where he’s lining and are being forced to counter some really unorthodox formations. To top it all off, your players have to process all of this information in a really compressed timeframe without the benefit of a huddle, relying on checks at the line, so the potential for mental lapses increases tremendously. That’s when the offense can hit you with a big play not only due to things like mismatches or effective play design, but because of small details like splits or alignment that are lost by the defense amidst all of the chaos. So for the defense that player/coach combination is very dangerous.

Unfortunately Nacita plays just about every snap of the game so we will see plenty of him when we are on offense as well. The conventional wisdom is to go away from a player like him, but I see it differently. We want to attack him often. Make him run the field covering deep balls. Run at him and make him be physical in the run game. Beating a team like Guelfi will come down to playing complimentary football. If we can sustain some long drives and attack Nacita physically, maybe he’ll have a little less gas in the tank when he takes the field against our defense.

AFI: You beat the Guelfi in a close game that last time you faced them. What can you do differently this weekend?

DL: I wasn’t here for that first game but I have watched it plenty of times. The most dangerous element we have to face comparing then to now is that, at that time, the Giants were peaking while Guelfi was still kind of finding itself.

Since then they’ve gone on a run while the Giants have dealt with injuries, an OC departure/new OC, a defensive import leaving for NFL minicamp, and just a number of other distractions that can really throw a wrench in a season. The situation in Bolzano is really unique in that ⅔ of the team aren’t from Bolzano, which forces us to practice mainly on the weekends. This means we have to be efficient and focused because we are so short on time. We have had 3 TDs scored against our punt team in the last 3 games–2 returns and 1 block. Two of those games were decided by one point. So we haven’t been winning on the details lately, whereas Guelfi has.

That will have to change this game if we expect to punch out ticket to the Italian Super Bowl. We have the benefit of having one of the best QBs I have ever worked with in Europe in Austin Gahafer. He is one of the most anticipatory passers I’ve seen out here and is a hell of a leader. When we protect him, the offense thrives. When we execute and don’t kill drives with penalties and negative plays, the team is formidable. That hasn’t happened lately, unfortunately, but we are getting some guys back healthy at the right time, so now it is just about our focus, attitude and effort going into Sunday.

AFI: You have had an up and down year in terms of your ground game. You had a decent rushing day the last time you played them but now William Petrone has stepped in. Will that change the way you run the ball?

We have a good stable of backs and Willie did a good job stepping in when the team really needed him. We got Ifrain Silot back last game and that’s a huge boost. I coached him in Ancona in 2015 and he brings a tremendous combination of speed and power. We should be 4-deep at running back going into Sunday, which will be the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve had all of our guys back. They all bring some different skills to the table so that definitely opens up some options with how we want to attack the Guelfi defense.

AFI: You had a tough loss in the CEFL Cup championship game against the Moscow Spartans. That must have been disappointing. How do you prepare your players for a new challenge?

The Moscow game was really devastating emotionally. It was a game we feel like we should have won, but they came in and just played with more desire and discipline than we did. There were some really little things that we did not adjust to with enough urgency in that game, personnel issues and preparation that really cost us. Moscow was able to get pressure with 4 which is really unacceptable for us and what we want to do. We have to do a much better job as coaches of preparing our guys to win in practice, before we hit the field on Gameday. I have to do a better job of making sure my guys on offense are in prepared to succeed.

That game is behind us now. We have to focus on being resilient and bouncing back from a painful wakeup call. Hopefully we can do exactly that this weekend.

AFI: Is there anything else you would like to add? 

DL: I just want to thank the Bolzano Giants for the opportunity they’ve given me this season. Mr. Tisma (president) and Valentina (GM) have really gone out of their way to accommodate me, from flying me in from Prague each week to making sure I have everything I need to be comfortable while I am in Italy. The last couple of months have shown me both extremes of the professionalism spectrum when it comes to football in Europe, and to be working with a classy organization is very refreshing.

The situation has been extremely challenging on the football side, but I’ve got a lot of love this group of players and everyone has embraced me like family since the moment I first arrived. I am going to do everything I can to help this team succeed on Sunday. In bocca al luppo!

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