While the traditionally strong teams appear to be concentrated in the IFL North this season, the most exciting matchup this week may actually be in Italy’s South when the 3-0 Ancona Dolphins face off against the 3-0 Lazio Marines in Rome today, March 29.
The teams meet again in Ancona on May 23rd.
Interestingly, Lazio has the top offense in Italy scoring 114 points in three games while the Dolphins boast the stingiest defense allowing opponents only 21 points in three contests.
Although they finished the 2014 season with only two wins, the Marines have already established themselves as a team to be reckoned with. They made a splash early on by signing one of Europe’s most respected coaches, Stan Bedwell, to lead their program in 2015. Stan’s resume is unmatched as it goes in Europe. As a player, he has run away with just about every passing record on the continent. As a coach, he is a guru of the Air Raid offense and will even be spending the fall of 2015 on the coaching staff of Air Raid godfather Hal Mumme at Bellevue University in Mississippi.
Adding to the potency of Stan’s already unstoppable attack is quarterback Chase Dodd of Rutgers University (FBS Division 1). Bedwell has already described Dodd as one of the most amazing passers he’s ever had the opportunity to work with. The reality is that when you combine a coordinator and quarterback of this caliber, the two become an extension of one another on gameday. Dodd becomes Bedwell’s Drew Brees, and Bedwell becomes Dodd’s Sean Payton. Coach and quarterback sharing one mind and leaving defenses none the wiser. So far, this has worked out well as Dodd leads the Italian league throwing for more than 800 yards and 13 touchdowns.
With this in mind, it stands to reason that the only defense that could rival the Marines’ offense this season is, well, their own. Not only do they possess a strong complimentary coaching staff, they also stayed aggressive on the import front bringing in star defensive lineman from the University of Tennessee Corey Miller. With the ability to line up anywhere on the defensive line, Miller brings a physical presence to the Marines front 7 and aggravates opposing coaches and quarterbacks alike.
And then there are the Ancona Dolphins, a team who in vintage Buffalo Bills fashion reached the Italian Super Bowl four times in a row in the mid-2000s and lost all four of the matchups. After missing the playoffs last season, the squad from Italy’s Marche region has also made a huge turn around from 2014 after making a drastic decision to change the direction of their team. With an aging philosophy rivaled only by their roster, the message was clear: it was time to bring in some new blood and inject life into the faltering program.
So the Dolphins set out to find the right head coach and believe they have done just that with the hire of 31-year old Daniel Levy. The Dolphins saw Levy’s history of turning teams around in Europe, the United States and Brazil and were further sold on his youth, enthusiasm, and reputation as a top notch motivator with a great all-around understanding of the game.
But Levy also came with a bonus, one that is hard to ignore. And that bonus came in the form of 6’3, 240lb. NFL-veteran Nic Harris, a former high school teammate of Levy’s who hails from the same small town of Alexandria, Louisiana. After Levy and Harris reunited briefly in Brazil, Nic decided to keep an eye on where his coach’s next stop would be. As package deal, calling these two a bargain would be quite an understatement.
After all, the 28-year old Harris stands alone in his own right as a player whose resume speaks for itself. A 3+ year starter at the University of Oklahoma; BCS Champion Runner up; All-American safety. Harris’s talent and hard work paid off on draft day in 2009 when he was selected by the Buffalo Bills. He spent the next two seasons playing for the Bills and the Carolina Panthers. Not as a camp body or no-name reserve, but as contributor who earned numerous starts on both teams and had his entire future in front of him.
But luck did not favor Nic’s career in the NFL. An injury red flag and a reputation as a ‘tweener’—an NFL player without a true NFL position—resulted in a quick exit for a star who was just beginning to shine. The NFL can be a cruel business, and unfortunately Harris has seen the worst of it.
“Anyone who doesn’t think Nic is an NFL talent has never seen him play,” says Levy. “I think the ‘tweener’ thing may have hurt him the most because the NFL likes to label guys. To pigeon hole them. Now before you know it, two years have gone by. You’re a street free agent and nobody cares anymore. Teams want the cheap, younger option.”
But I’ll take it a step further. What the NFL calls a ‘tweener’ I call an athlete. A football player. Someone who brings a lot to the game, who can help you out anywhere.”
If you don’t believe Levy, just look back to Harris’s debut in Brazil. Against the Minas Locomotiva, Harris lined up variously at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, safety, linebacker and also returned punts and kicks. He finished the game with four touchdowns and over 200 yards of total offense, as well as three interceptions and 12 tackles on defense.
“He’s a football player. He played safety in college. Linebacker in the NFL. He has some of the best hands and body control I’ve ever seen. He can chuck the ball 70 yards. And he knows the game and knows how to teach it. Having Nic Harris as an import is an opportunity that simply doesn’t come around often.”
“I would call Luke a late bloomer. And he’d probably agree with me. How a guy doesn’t get much playing time in college then goes to Germany and throws almost 30 touchdowns in 8 (games), only to follow it up by going to France and throwing over 40 touchdowns in 10 (games). That’s not a coincidence. I’ve spent 4 weeks with Luke and can tell you right now we made the right decision.
If I want one guy on my team who is bigger and has a stronger arm than Nic, I’d like for it to be my quarterback. Consider that box checked.”
So there you have it. Dolphins vs. Marines. Dodd vs. Harris. Zahradka vs. Miller.
Levy vs. Bedwell.
A game both teams have had marked on their calendars for weeks. This will be exciting!
Watch the game live here. Kickoff is at 3 p.m. CET (9 a.m. EST, 8 a.m. CST in the USA).