Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Former University of Albany FCS Football QB Vinny Esposito Continues Career In Italy's Italian Football League

Photo Credit: Giulio Busi

When you think of pro football, a few places come to mind. Green Bay and Lambeau Field, Chicago and Soldier Field to name a couple. Those are the storied bastions of the game that so many Americans have come to love.

But for Vinny Esposito, his field is located halfway around the world. He plays pro football. In Bologna, Italy.

After graduating from the University at Albany, Esposito was thinking that his football career was over. But he soon got the itch to play the game again and put his name on a European scouting website to gather interest. He then got in contact with an agent that specialized in placing Americans on European teams. The agent directed him to the Bologna Warriors of the Italian Football League, a ten-team league with the highest reputation in Italy.

In his first year with the team, which is made up of players ranging in age from 20 to 40 years old who mostly consider playing football an after-work activity, Esposito has become the starting quarterback for the Warriors.

“It is definitely experience to say the least. First of all, most of the guys on the team play for little or no money and do it purely for their love of the game,” Esposito said in an e-mail. “Many have families and jobs and come to practice after a full day of work. So, there are some serious differences. The one thing that is pretty incredible is that they do all the hard work just cause they love it.”

Esposito said that the play on the field can often times be an experience in itself. With the team only really able to practice three times a week due to many players’ work commitments, it can often be hard to diagram complicated plays. This can often be a challenge to Esposito, who sometimes has been forced to revert back to schoolyard tactics of creating plays in the huddle. Most of the time those plays involve just telling his receivers to run a route and try to get open.

“It was hard at first, because with the incredible coaching staff at UAlbany, I learned certain rules to be successful playing at a high level. Now, I had to forget those things and play like I did in high school, or even younger. If (UAlbany quarterbacks) Coach McCarthy saw some of the things I was doing, he would not be happy,” Esposito said.

His former coach, UAlbany’s Bob Ford said he was happy to see another one of his players playing professionally.

“Thank god he’s playing in Italy. They called and said he was holding on to the ball too long and I said ‘Gee, that doesn’t sound like Vinny’,” Ford joked. “I just think that you have so many kids that enjoy the game so much that they want to continue playing if you can.”

Each of the teams in the IFL is allowed to carry three Americans on their roster, with those players often times being the players to touch the ball the most.

“Since they only have three Americans, and often the Americans are the only ones paid, they are counted on to make huge impacts on and off the field. We help coach the youth team and also are unofficial coaches for our team. We helped form the playbook and I often call many of the plays,” Esposito said.

Playing in Bologna has afforded Esposito the opportunity that he never had in being able to go abroad like any other college student. When he was playing for the Great Danes, he was unable to leave the program during the season. Now, he is able to experience that, only without the studying and getting paid to do so.

Esposito said he gets paid enough in Euros to live comfortably in an apartment he shares with the two other Americans on the team. In addition, he is covered medically and has transportation paid for.

The fan support for teams in Italy varies according to Esposito. In Bologna, a few thousand fans show up to every game with noisemakers and chants creating a raucous atmosphere. However, in other cities the support is lighter, including Bolzano, last year’s Italian Super Bowl champion, where only a few hundred fans show up to each game despite having one of the nicer fields in the league.

The support is often boisterous but interesting due to some of the fans not knowing all the intricacies of the game, leading to some interesting moments on the field.

“It will be a key down on offense and I’ll be trying to call out the play, which is enough of a struggle since all of the guys do not know English and we’re trying to translate the call, and then the fans will be screaming and music will be playing,” Esposito said. “Then, we’ll be on defense, trying to make a huge stop and the crowd will be silent. But either way, they support the team and many people in the city are involved with the team.”

Interest in American football has been picking up steam again in Italy thanks to an increase in talent and better coaching, according to Esposito. However, it is mostly a supportive but small group of people who are the team’s main supporters as it still lags far behind soccer and basketball in the country.

Esposito said that the level of play in the league also varies. The Americans in the league typically come from Division I programs and the commitment to the game usually shows itself in their dominance on the field. However, he said that the Italian players are usually able to compete well.

Adjusting to living in Italy has been another experience for Esposito, who has had to get over the language barrier and get accustomed to the diet of Italians. However, he said that he has gotten more used to it thanks to the young population of the city.

“The oldest university in Europe is here and there is a student population of over 150,000 so the nightlife has been very fun. The guys on the team take us out as often as they can to see the sights and go to the most fun bars and clubs so that has certainly made the adjustment easier,” Esposito said.

Esposito said he would consider staying in Italy, taking into consideration its’ relaxed atmosphere. He had a word of advice for any player considering following his path.

“I am experiencing the culture, having a great time, meeting amazing people, and it is all being paid for. In fact, I am making money doing it. I would recommend it to anyone,” Esposito said.

by Jon Campbell, managing editor
By Aaron Scholder, Sports Editor

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