Osos Rivas RB Mike Gentili is living the life he was meant to in memory of his father

At one point or another, we’ve all faced the same nagging question in life.

Am I on the right path? Am I doing what fulfills me? Is this where I’m supposed to be?

Most people simply clear their heads and move on, content to continue on the prescribed course, but Osos Rivas running back Mike Gentili is not one of those people.

At 28-years old, he was a successful salesman in the tech sector, bringing in good money and living in major cities like New York, London, and Boston. Then one day, he got a wake-up call he didn’t know he needed.

His father, a one-time cancer survivor, had relapsed and the prognosis was poor. Every other day, Gentili drove the 350 miles to his hometown of Leominster, Massachusetts to see him. On one such visit, his dad had a special request.

“He asked me to grab him something from on top of the fridge. I grabbed this box and handed it to him and it was filled with DVDs of every single football game I had ever played. High school, prep school, college, even freshman football,” Gentili recalls.

“He had tracked down someone who had filmed every single game of my career, didn’t matter if it was a freshman game on some back field with no fans. He managed to find cellphone videos of some of these games and get them put onto DVDs.”

Mike Gentili racing for a 74 yard TD playing for the Helsinki Roosters Photo: FSC Media

For the last few months of his dad’s life, the two watched the tapes and relived the memories together.

“He always used to say how he loved watching me play and how he wished he could see me play again,” Gentili smiled. “At that point I was 28, that ship had sailed a long time ago and I was pretty comfortable in retirement.”

The game of football always had a way of calling him back however. Even in college, as he moved from Curry College to New Hampshire and finally on to Bridgewater State, Gentili had tried to walk away from the game to focus on his future but it always drew him back in.

He was five years removed from his last college game when his father passed away, but Gentili knew he wasn’t living the life he was meant to. It was time to make a change.

“I had an extremely lucrative job, running enterprise sales for a software company in Boston. When I walked in and told the CEO I was leaving to go play football, he was a little baffled,” Gentili grins.

Mike Gentili hauling in a TD pass for the Orebro Black Knights Photo: Jonas Domfors

A year before his father’s death, Gentili received something that made the change possible: Italian citizenship. Long before he imagined playing football in Europe, Gentili knew he wanted to live in the country that his paternal grandfather had left behind.

“It’s something I’d always felt deeply connected to. I was in the process of getting my Italian citizenship since the very first time I went to Italy. It took me about six years of gathering the paperwork, getting the translations done right and going back and forth with the embassy,” Gentili explains.

“There was a year I lived in Boston where I purposefully got an apartment across the street from the embassy so I could go bother them every day about my application.”

With valuable dual-citizenship to offer and a highlight tape half a decade old, Gentili headed to his ancestral homeland and signed with the Lazio Ducks. Before he ever played a game however, Gentili was offered a spot at running back on the Italian National Team. His first game in Europe was to be an Alps Bowl match-up against Switzerland.

“I was almost in tears when I got to actually put the jersey on and hear the national anthem,” Gentili admits.

“It was vindicating. All the hard work I’d put in, the fact that I had to put the things I was passionate about on the back burner for so many years and lived in places where I didn’t really feel like I should’ve been, to six months later being able to play football in Italy. There was nothing more I could have asked for at the time.”

Mike Gentili playing RB for Italy in game against Switzerland Photo: Valentina Gallina

Three years later, Gentili has made Italy his home base as he continues to bounce around the continent as a highly coveted import. It’s the lifestyle he was meant to live and it has come with unexpected surprises. His first season in Rome, Gentili found a kindred spirit in talented female player Isabella Pelonzi and love blossomed. The two have been together ever since.

“She’s a freaking baller,” he says beaming with pride. “We met through the team and we hit it off pretty good. That’s part of the reason I came back to the Ducks for a second year. After that, we’ve just been looking for place where I could go and she could play also.”

That journey has crisscrossed Europe over the last year. First there was a contract with the Schwabisch Hall Unicorns until the pandemic led to a canceled German season. Gentili found work in Finland for the Helsinki Roosters, his favorite import experience thus far, and then hopped across to Sweden to play for the Örebro Black Knights. There was even a one game stop in Bosnia, where Gentili suited up for the Banja-Luka Rebels in the league championship.

“That was another unbelievable opportunity to go down, meet those guys and get a taste of the culture down there,” Gentili says. “It’s eight-man football and seven of their defensive starter were playing their first season ever. It’s not a place that has a heavy football tradition but those guys all loved it. They hung out together all day, every day, talking about it before practice and asking so many great questions.”

Mike Gentili and Isabella Pelonzi

Now, the dual-threat runner is in Spain with the Osos Rivas. Having yet to play his first game due to weather and COVID-19 cancellations, Gentili drove his motorcycle into Madrid four weeks ago at the height of the country’s record-setting blizzard, pushing the bike through side streets to get to his accommodations.

It’s been a wild journey for the now 31-year old and he doesn’t intend to stop anytime soon. He’s found a purpose in life that he never had before and plans to coach once he can’t play any longer. Along the way, he’s collected a whole new set of game tapes from places he never could have imagined and wishes his dad could watch them with him.

“I think he’d be proud, not just of how well I’ve been able to play but I think he’d be proud that I ditched the nine-to-five and that I’m doing what I love,” Gentili says thoughtfully. “He never worked a day in an office and he wasn’t someone who was beholden to anyone. I think he would be proud of me just doing what I’m passionate about and having fun. Even if I was playing like crap, he’d be proud.”

Watch Gentili and Osos Rivas take on the Murcia Cobras, Saturday, February 14 at 5 pm CET (11 am ET) live on AFI.tv
J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.