Italian Football League Kicks Off 2017 Season

The Italian Football League kicks of its 2017 season this weekend with one major league change. No longer is the league divided into North and South as it has been for the past couple of years. For 2017, all 11 teams will battle in the same division.

This no doubt is related to the fact that only one of the South division teams survived past the first round of the playoffs for the past two years.

The trend has been that the teams in the north of Italy dominate and that didn’t change last season. All four playoff teams from the South were eliminated in the quarterfinals.  So the regional divisions are gone.

Newcomers this year are the Pesaro UTA while the Ferrara Aquile have dropped out of the top division.

Let’s take a look then at the 11 teams playing in the Italian Football League. 

Milano Rhinos

The Milano Rhinos remarkable undefeated season will be hard to replicate in 2017 but head coach Chris Ault seems to have many of the pieces back in place.

Quarterback TJ Pryor who ran Ault’s Pistol offense so well has returned along with running back Nick Ricciardulli who scored four touchdowns in the Rhinos Italian Bowl rout of the Bolzano Giants. The Rhinos will also be taking on the challenge of the European Football League. 

Milano Seamen

The Seamen who were bounced in the semifinals in 2016 by the Rhinos in a 35-34 thriller, will start the new season with new head coach Tony Addona and defensive coordinator Randy Beverly. They are playing in their new stadium and preparing to challenge the cross-town Italian champion Rhinos.

In 2017, the Seamen will compete in the Divisione 1 in the Italy’s FIDAF as well as in the BIG6, an international tournament that culminates in the Eurobowl. Milano is in the Group B along with Germany’s Samsung Frankfust Universe and Berlin Rebels. In international play last season the Seamen reached the 2016 IFAF Europe Champions League final before falling to Poland’s Wroclaw Panthers 40-37.

For 2017, the Seamen signed veteran European quarterback Luke Zahradka for the 2017 Italian and BIG6 seasons. Zahradka has an Italian passport and is the national team signal-caller. Zahradka spent the 2016 season with the Prague Black Panthers in the Austrian Football League. He has spent the past four seasons in Europe, first with the Kirchdorf Wildcats (Germany), and then a year in France with Amiens Spartiates.  In 2015, he led the Ancona Dolphins to a 9-0-1 regular season record.

Also on board is cornerback and all-purpose athlete Paul Morant. Morant comes from league rival Bolzano Giants. Wide receiver Reece Horn rounds outs this strong class of additions for the Seamen. Horn played college ball for the University of Indianapolis and spent the last year chasing an NFL roster spot. He was a member of the Tennessee Titans throughout the NFL pre-season. Horn joins Stefano di Tunis, the Italian Super Bowl MVP in 2015, to create a strong receiving corps for Zahradka.

Roma Grizzlies

The Grizzlies struggled through a dismal 2-7-1 season in 2016 and were out of the playoffs picture. To fix this former Cornell quarterback Nathan Ford has been brought in as offensive coordinator who with new quarterback Caleb Watkins (Indiana State) will hopefully guide Roma to an offensive turnaround.

The defensive secondary will be coached by Derrick Fofanah (Southwest Baptist University – Div II).

The Grizzlies are undergoing a rebuilding year in that many of the junior players are stepping up into the senior team to replace the departing veterans. However, the return of running back Silot Pajan will definitely help the offense.

Roma opens the schedule against the Milano Seamen.

Torino Giaguari

The Torino Giaguari struggled in 2016 finishing the season with a 3-7 record in the Italian North division.

Head Coach Riccardo Merola will be joined by former New York Jets assistant coach Joe Bommarito, who was most recently behind the bench with the Milano Rhinos. Bommarito will handle the offensive line as well as serve as assistant head coach, aiding Merola in the general management team.

Jordan Paul has signed on as the new quarterback for the Giaguari from Turin, Italy, for the 2017 season. The 6’3″ 215 lb Paul, a native of Brooklyn, New York,  finished his college football career at the University of Charleston (NCAA Div. II) after transferring from Gardner Webb (NCAA Div. I). He served both as quarterback and wide receiver.

In addition to an excellent battery of receivers available to Paul, the Giaguari will count on Lou Cotrone, the Italian national team running back. Controne’s powerful style of play helped the national team to reach the European men’s senior playoffs against Denmark, and was the MVP of the qualifying tournament held in Lignano, Italy last September.

On defense the big news is the new import, Matt Conroy. The American linebacker joins the Giaguari after spending 2016 leading the Allgau Comets defense in the German Football League (GFL).

Bolzano Giants

On offense the Giants will rely on American quarterback Dustin Hawke Willingham, who played his last season in the Norwegian league the Oslo Vikings, and on Mark Simone, a member of the Italian national team. Simone can play wide receiver but also running back, and will definitely be the player to watch on the Bolzano offense.

On defense, in addition to the excellent package of Italians, the Giants will be able to count on the American safety Bryan Hayes, a Compton native from the University of Utah. The Giants remarkable finals appearance in 2016 came a s a surprise to some but the team has been knocking on the door for the past few years and this year may see their efforts pay off.

Firenze Guelfi

The Guelfi finished the 2016 season, their very first in Italy’s top league, in third place in the South Division and were knocked out of the playoffs in the quarterfinals.

The Guelfi signed quarterback Eddie Printz to boost their prospects in 2017. The 6’3″ 205 lb native of Marietta, Georgia has just finished his junior season at Texas State University, and chose to forgo his senior season and sign with the Guelfi. Printz will have wide receiver Mike Vanucci to throw to in 2017. Vanucci, 5’9″, 190 lb from Bethpage, New York, finished a four year career at William Paterson University Pioneers (NCAA Div. III) in 2015.

The Guelfi bolstered their defense with the addition of end Skyler Suggs. Suggs, 6’3″, 270 lb and a native of Augusta, Missouri, wound up his college career at Lindenwood University (NCAA Div. II) in St. Charles, Missouri where he finished with 54 tackles and eight sacks.

Ancona Dolphins

The Dolphins will open the season against the Guelfi with returning quarterback Ryan Kasdorf behind center. The team finished the 2016 season with an 8-2 record but were bounced from the playoffs by the Bolzano Giants in a thriller.

Defensively, Zachary Blair joins Italian linebacker Vince Romano to help strengthen a defense which was already one of the best in Italy.

Pesaro UTA

Never heard of the Pesaro UTA? It’s because they’ve never exisited before 2017.

Last July, the Pesaro Angels and Forli Titans struck as deal that brought the teams back to the top stage of the Italian American football after 25 years. Presidents Frank Fabbri and Fabio Fiordoro renewed the deal; the two teams, Angels and Titans, are now the Unified Titans & Angels or UTA.

Three Americans have arrived to boost the new team – Chase Venuto, Alec Iacovelli and Robert Kendall. Nevertheless, head coach Francesco Sclafani  will have his hands full in the club’s very first year in the top league in Italy.

Parma Panthers

The perennial playoff contending Parma Panthers return to challenge for the Italian Bowl in 2017. Head coach Andrew Papoccia leads a team accustomed to winning. The Panthers appeared in six straight finals from 2010 to 2015 winning four of them. They advanced to the semifinals in 2016 and were edged by the Bolzano Giants.

This year again they will have national team quarterback Tommasso Monardi behind center but the receiving corps has received a huge boost with the addition of 6’6″, 245 lb Kris Durham from the University of Georgia and the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks.

Expect Parma to challenge for the Italian title once again in 2017.

Bergamo Lions

This Sunday the Bergamo Lions begin their 34th season of American football against the Lazio Marines. The game is a rematch of the epic final match of the 2015 FIDAF U19 Championship where the Lions dominated the the Romans and took the title home.

The Lions are lead by new Head Coach Adam Rita, a true legend. Rita’s Canadian Football League (CFL) friend and colleague Kenneth Miller, joins the Lions staff with Rita.

Coach Rita secured import American quarterback Giorgio Bryant. Bryant, from the Riverside Community College has played on three continents the last three years. Georgia State University running back Parris Lee fills out the rest of the Lions import offensive backfield. Lee played with Serbia’s Sirmium Legionaries in 2016.

Lazio Marines

The Marines open 2017 in a new stadium with a new head coach. Stadio delle Tre Fontane will be the home of the Romans and Finnish coach Juha Hakala will guide the Marines in the Divisione 1. Hakala comes to Rome after leading Finland’s Helsinki Roosters to 5 consecutive Maple Bowl titles in Finland.

Also transfering from Helsinki is quarterback Mic Brown. The 5’10” 190 lb Brown led the Roosters to the Finnish championship in 2015 and 2016 while also guiding the Gdynia Seahawks to the Polish title in 2015. He has had previous stints with the Marburg Mercenaries in Germany, quarterbacked Team USA in the 2011 IFAF World Championships, played in the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger Cats and Toronto Argonauts and spent a season in Switzerland with the Basel Mean Machine.

Rounding out the transfers from Finland is American linebacker Stephen Peyton. Peyton has spent the last three seasons in Helsinki before joining Brown and Hakala in Rome.

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