Soldiers mentor Vicenza football players on and off the field
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Pfc. Matthew Perez guides Vicenza High School football players in a warm up drill before the game against Aviano High School on Caserma Ederle. (Photo Credit: 2nd Lt. Katherine Sibilla ) VIEW ORIGINAL
Soldiers mentor Vicenza football players on and off the field
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Head coach, Jessie Woods, discusses the game plan with Spc. Carson Simmons, Spc. Michael Ferguson, and Pfc. Matthew Perez. (Photo Credit: 2nd Lt. Katherine Sibilla ) VIEW ORIGINAL

VICENZA, Italy — Vicenza High School football players are lucky to have extra help this season, thanks to three Soldiers from the 207th Military Intelligence Brigade – Theater.

Spc. Michael Ferguson, Spc. Carson Simmons and Pfc. Matthew Perez volunteer as assistant football coaches – a perfect formula to serve both their country and their local community. The Cougars, a team with some novice players, practice daily at U.S. Army Garrison Italy’s sports field on Caserma Ederle. They play teams from Department of Defense Education Activity Schools in Italy and Spain.

Sometimes the players must learn football basics, the very foundations of the game, said Ferguson, 32, a chaplain’s assistant from the 307th Military Intelligence Battalion. A South Carolina native, Ferguson coached teens before joining the Army. He enjoys the opportunity to mold players, grow their skills and do away with bad habits – both on and off the field.

“I can give them my life experience on how I play football, and train them to get to where they need to be,” Ferguson said.

Soldiers mentor Vicenza football players on and off the field
Spc. Michael Ferguson, special teams coach, observes the game against the Aviano Saints on the sideline with his players. (Photo Credit: 2nd Lt. Katherine Sibilla) VIEW ORIGINAL

Junior Soldiers in the brigade, the three volunteers also get to apply leadership skills and Army values. Simmons, a military intelligence specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 207th Military Intelligence Brigade, echoed Ferguson’s sentiment. A former offensive lineman from South Carolina, Simmons found that Army discipline can shape the teen player’s work ethic in all aspects of life. He even asks players to show him their school grades, so he knows they are on the right track.

Soldiers mentor Vicenza football players on and off the field
Spc. Carson Simmons gives guidance to his offensive linemen before they stepped onto the field to face the Aviano Saints. (Photo Credit: 2nd Lt. Katherine Sibilla) VIEW ORIGINAL

“Seventy percent of the players have never played the sport before, so most of them don't have much discipline to begin with,” Simmons said. “All of us, being service members, we're really able to help them instill that in themselves.”

Mentoring through football is special to each, as the sport meant a lot to them when they were growing up. Simmons, who played football since age seven, aspired to be a positive figure like his football coaches – who helped him during troubled times at home.

“Football saved me many times,” Simmons said. “My coaches helped me out a lot growing up and I'm glad that I can do the same.”

For Perez, a supply specialist with the 307th Military Intelligence Battalion, coaching also renewed his dedication to work, he said.

“These players really gave me that mentality that if I'm being a leader on the field, I gotta be a leader at work,” Perez said. “I'm happy and grateful for this.”