Italy’s Bolzano Giants Sign Veteran QB Dustin Hawke-Willingham

The Bolzano Giants, 2016 Italian Bowl finalists, have signed veteran quarterback Dustin Hawke-Willingham for 2017.

The 6’1″, 207 lb Hawke-Willingham is a native of Boulder, Colorado and played at the University of Arkansas before transferring to Southwest Baptist University (NCAA Div. II).

He is a true veteran of American football in Europe having played in Germany, (Hamburg Huskies), Austria (Salzburg Bulls) and Norway (Nidaros Domers, Oslo Vikings) before arriving in Italy. With the Oslo Vikings, he led the team to the Norwegian championship in 2016.

The Giants have been one of the mainstays of the Italian Football League for many years and made it to the Italian championship final losing to the Milano Rhinos. Bolzano is definitely a football town as it is also the only team in Italy with a American football-specific stadium and facilities.

American Football International asked Dustin about his many years playing football in Europe and about the state of the game both in Europe and in the United States. He has some very strong opinions and does not hold back. It is well worth the read.

AFI:Why did you choose to play for the Bolzano Giants in Italy?

Hawke-Willingham: I chose to play for Giants Bolzano because I wanted to play a season in Italy and experience the culture and play for a solid organization with rich football traditions within it. The stadium speaks for itself and atmosphere around the team is exciting, there is vibe that I really enjoy being around this team and a very good friend of mine and former teammate is a coach on the staff here in Nick Garrett, he’s one of my best friends and felt that having that support around me would do nothing but be beneficial to me and my growth as a man and player. I was also drawn to play for our head coach who many refer to as an old school kinda coach and I really like his approach and demand for great effort and the right attitude from his players, I also was excited to play for Coach Mike Wood who’s considered to be a very good DC here in Europe. Bottom line is that everybody here wants to win and seem very dedicated to the vision.

AFI: You are a veteran of European play. Where have you played before?

Hawke-Willingham: I’ve been playing in Europe for 7 seasons and this will be my 8th season here. I played my first season in Germany, my second in Austria and for the past 5 seasons I’ve been in Norway with two different teams, winning the National Championship last season with the Oslo Vikings. I’m very grateful for all of these opportunities as they’ve truly help shape and mold me into a better man and person, not just making me a better football player.

AFI: How much longer do you want to continue to return to play football in Europe.

Hawke-Willingham: I would like to player for 3-5 more seasons in Europe, as long as I’m healthy and mentally motivated to push myself to work on my game to always be working to get better than I’m going to keep playing.

AFI: Have you had a chance to visit other countries in Europe?
Hawke-Willingham: I’ve had the opportunity to travel a bit and I’ve gotten to visit: France, Sweden, Holland, Denmark, Croatia & Bosnia

AFI: What has become your favorite food?
Hawke-Willingham: My favorite food in Europe is by far Norwegian Salmon, cooked in just about every way possible. If you haven’t had it, you should definitely try to make that happen, it’s by far the most healthy and delicious food I’ve eaten and grew to love it so much I ate it probably 5 times a week while living in Norway. 

AFI: How far has football developed since you have been playing in Europe?
Hawke-Willingham: Football in Europe has evolved more and more each year I’ve been out here, as I try to me introspective about my own game and the game around me, I’ve developed some opinions and thoughts about the game in general as well as the evolution of the game in each country and how each of those countries try to grow the sport, as some do a great job and some, not so much. Overall, I think football is the greatest game known to modern man and the game directly correlates to life if you’re able to visualize the concepts the game teaches you along with lessons and apply them to everyday life, the value and tranquility of repetition and element of accountability and of developing self awareness and understanding of yourself and those around you, to be a little better each day & be dedicated to the unified goal of the team and learning how to fail and succeed like a man.

AFI: What advice would you give young players thinking about playing in Europe?
Hawke-Willingham: If I could give any advice to young players it would be to try and forget what you think you know about American football from the States and use what you know to be a player that can help evolve the sport with great effort and attitude to any team you play for.

Lose your ego and be open minded to whatever experience awaits you, be a cup that’s half full and not that guy who’s bigger than life wanting to get his shine through selfishness.

These teams do a lot to get Americans over here and to pay them fairly and appropriately so act accordingly and be grateful that somebody/anybody wants to pay you to play for there team at all. America is falling apart and the NFL is a huge monopolized industry, not fairly allocating jobs to all the football players that can actually do this for a living, if you’re a player and reading this then you know what I mean, as there is so much that goes into making an NFL team; timing, skill set, luck, where you played college ball, your mental head space at the time of your opportunity, your work ethic, speed, mental aptitude etc etc… and there is a reason NFL teams cycle players outta the league every 3.5 years and that’s so they don’t have to pay you pension and they can use your body up while it’s young and vibrant.

The game of football is beautiful by its nature but the business of football in America is as dirty as dirty gets and coaches can ruin careers as much as they can help a career thrive and flourish and the politics involved are as thick as politics in every billion dollar industry and I speak of this to bring it back to the true essence of the game, where we fell in love with this game and out here in Europe you’ll see some politics here and there and some under the table crap, but you’ll mostly see a game that’s played with love and a pure and true passion for this beautiful sport with people that truly love the game and simply pay you to amplify the game with your play and it’s up to you how you follow suite, adopt YOUR game to your European players NOT the other way around because you will soon realize how difficult you can make things for yourself.

See this as the greatest opportunity to see the world and you’ll soon realize America is not the greatest county in the world and there are amazing and wonderful people in Europe that love our game and want to make it as great as possibly. If you do that and you’re going to have an epic time out here and people are going to love you for who you are and how adaptable you’re able to be within your situation.

On a final, and lighter note, I also suggest bringing your own hot sauce if you’re a spicy food enthusiast like myself because you might find yourself in a place that doesn’t do that Tapatio on everything type thing.

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Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.