Franco brothers on Italy football team

Love for football takes Franco brothers to Italy

Courtesy photo Johnny Franco (shades) and Steve Franco coached the past two seasons together at IUP for the Crimson Hawks.

Special to the Mirror

The game of football has taken the Franco brothers — Johnny and Steve — all over America when they were playing collegiately at West Point, Akron and then at IUP.

Now, their love of football has directed them to a new destination: Italy.

Both were standouts at Tyrone Area High School and IUP and are now playing and coaching professional football in Italy.

Their team is Firenze Guelfi of the Federazione Italiana di American Football League.

Johnny serves as the team’s defensive coordinator, and Steve is playing multiple positions.

“The team’s general manager (Eduardo Cammi) contacted me through Facebook about being a dual-citizenship player for the team,” Steve said. “My mom (Sue) really worked tirelessly to collect all the documents to obtain my Italian citizenship.”

Each team is allowed to have three American players on the roster. Besides Steve, the other two players are from Baylor University, who played for coach Art Briles, who also happens to be Firenze Guelfi’s head coach.

Johnny found out about the coaching opportunity through his brother, was interviewed by Cammi and Briles by phone using face time and got the job.

“Coach Briles is an unbelievable coach,” Johnny said. “I’ve only been with him for a few days, but he has already taught me so much about the game.”

Firenze Guelfi, which is from Florence, Italy, is one of nine teams in the league, which started in 2002. There are 60 players on each roster, and the season starts March 16.

The championship game is the first week of July.

“From what I’ve been told, it is the equivalent of somewhere between Division II and III (college) football,” Steve said. “But there are many former Division I players that have played in this league and still play in it.”

Besides playing American football with teammates from all over Italy, the brothers — who have been in Italy two weeks — are also getting to see parts of a country in which their paternal grandparents had roots before coming to America.

“My grandmother passed away not even a year ago, and she was so excited when I told her that I might have the possibility to live and play in Italy,” Steve said. “I truly believe she played a big part from above in making this all work out for my brother and I.”

Steve will play safety, and he could see time on offense at either receiver or quarterback, his position at Tyrone when the Golden Eagles, coached by his father John, advanced to the 2011 PIAA title game.

“It will be an absolute pleasure to play and learn from coach Briles,” Steve said. “I’m extremely interested to see how he runs the team.”

Both will return to Pennsylvania to get ready for the 2019 football season, but where remains up in the air. Both had to give up their coaching jobs at IUP for this opportunity.

“I felt this was an opportunity to grow in both the football world, and more importantly, as an individual by leaving my comfort zone,” Steve said. “By working with coach Briles, I will gain an unmatchable amount of football knowledge to use as a coach down the road.”

They are paid a stipend by Firenzi Guelfi. Their housing is paid by the team, and they currently are living in an apartment in downtown Florence.

“Honestly, I would recommend any player that has the chance to play overseas to do it if they are able,” Johnny said. “You get a different respect for the game here, because they truly play it for the love of the game. You get to play an American sport in which you’re usually the best player on the team, all while having time to explore parts of Europe.”