Authentic Italian football: Dalton grad Tanner wins league championship

·3 min read

Jul. 16—When Ahmaad Tanner wrapped up his time playing running back for Austin Peay State University last November, he had no idea there was an American football league in Italy.

The Italian Football League has been around since 1980, but the Dalton High School graduate first heard of it while he was pursuing a possible shot at the NFL earlier this year.

"Right out of college, I wanted to try to train for the NFL," Tanner said. "Our receivers coach at Austin Peay contacted me and said he knew a guy in the Italian league and his team needed a running back."

So Tanner whisked away to Italy, where he helped lead Florence-based team Firenze Guelfi to the league's championship. The Guelfi defeated the Milano Seamen 21-17 earlier this month to cap a season that began in March at 9-2 and win the "Italian Bowl."

"I just thought it was a great opportunity to go and see the world, get a new experience and play football," Tanner said.

American football isn't so different in Italy, said Tanner, who rushed for 1,560 yards and 23 touchdowns in his senior season for Dalton in 2016.

Games are played with 12-minute quarters, instead of 15, but the rules pretty much resemble a standard college football game. The only exception is a limit on numbers of American-born players.

Only two American players can be on the field at any given time, meant to give home-grown Italian players the chance to shine in a sport that is dwarfed in popularity by soccer and others in the country, Tanner said.

"One guy that played lineman for us, he had been connected to the game from when he was young watching YouTube videos," Tanner said. "Everyone was just into soccer, but he liked football, somehow."

Tanner got the chance to play a lot at running back and receiver in a system installed by a familiar coach to American football fans who has found a job coaching across the globe.

Art Briles, the former Baylor University head coach who was dismissed from the school in 2015 due to his role in a sexual assault scandal at the university, is the coach for Firenze.

A run-heavy attack featured Tanner, Italian quarterback Andrea Fimiani and running back Jared Gerbino. Gerbino is from New York and played college football at Dartmouth.

All three were in the top-four in the league in rushing yards during the regular season. Tanner was fourth with 625 yards and six scores during the regular season.

"Our running attack was unstoppable," Tanner said. "We had three guys that could run the ball."

The Guelfi entered the playoffs as the third-seeded team at 6-2. After a 49-0 win over Bologna in the first round of the playoffs, Firenze avenged two losses from the regular season schedule — to the Parma Panthers and Milano — to win the championship.

When Tanner wasn't training or playing across the country in the nine-team league, he was exploring Florence.

"I enjoyed the scenery and seeing all the old, historic buildings," Tanner said. "It's really cool to be in a city like Florence that has so much history behind it. It was a great experience, but it was very different. But everyone was super nice and accepting of me and my other two teammates that were from America."

Tanner said his time in Italy — he flew back to the United States last week — was a great experience, but he's not sure yet if he'd return to Italy or to another American football league elsewhere to keep playing.

"As of right now, I'm really not sure," Tanner said. "I'm just back home and putting in the work and seeing if I have any opportunities before I hang the cleats up."