Catania Elephants prove that hard work and commitment pay off.
The Catania Elephants of the Italian American Football league (IFL) is one of the oldest existing clubs in Italy. Based on the island of Sicily, the team has battled its way up from the lowest division to Italy’s premier level of American football twice over the past 20 years, proof of the resilience of the club and its fans.
Founded in 1984 by a group of avid Italian American football fans, the club was first launched as a touch football team. When Italian television started broadcasting NFL games live, interest in American football skyrocketed. The founding group then got serious and in 1985, they formed a 3rd division team in Palermo. It took five years but in 1991 the Elephants won the division title and advanced to Italy’s 2nd division. Four years after that the team advanced to the Golden League, the top division in Italy.
After three years, with finances suffering and the team about to fold, current president Davide Guiliano, a former player on the team from 1992 to 2000, stepped in and took the reins. The team found itself relegated to Division 3 but over the course of another few years, under Giuliano’s steady hand, Catania’s economy stabilized. By 2008, the club had regained its top division status. Mr. Guiliano is active in almost every area of the operation. In fact, not only does he finance and operate the club, he is also behind the bench as offensive coordinator.
“Since we are based on the island of Sicily, it has been difficult to recruit players from the mainland, so we have built the team by developing the players ourselves,” said Guiliano. The Elephants have risen to become one of the top four or five teams in Italy and in 2008, with a strong nucleus of players (Jason Johnson, ex-CFL quarterback) and coaches, they made the IFL playoffs. “I believe that team chemistry is key,” said Guiliano, “and in the 2008 season we had great team unity and we also had fun. We look forward to more years like that.”
This year, with returning players like wide receiver Claudio Mangano, Gregorio Barbagallo, tight end Giuseppe Strano and running back Enrico Lombardo, all of whom play on Italy’s national team as well, the club as a great nucleus of homegrown talent. They have added Rick Kovalcheck (Arizona/Vanderbilt) at quarterback, David Morgan (Colgate) at wide receiver and Clarence Cunningham (San Jose State) at free safety, all three with impressive pedigrees.
With the team now in the Italian Super Bowl for the first time in its history, it seems obvious that Davide Guiliano and the Elephants are achieving their goals of creating great team unity and having fun.
“Compared to Germany, Austria and a few other major European leagues, we have a lot to work to do in terms of organization, promotion of our game and player development,” continued Davide. “But we are definitely headed in the right direction.”