Local quarterback to play in international tournaments
When Brian Alfieri steps onto the field as the starting quarterback for the U.S. Men’s Flag National Team [USMFNT] in Spain this Oct. 6, it’ll be the culmination of two years of nonstop tournament play, hundreds of hours of practice and grueling rehabilitation from rotator cuff and labrum surgeries.
The 32-year-old Farmingdale native, who started playing flag football at 17, traces the origins of his current journey from the Strong Island Dogs. That local squad won its first national championship back in 2018. When two of Alfieri’s close friends/teammates from the Dogs wound up getting selected for the USMFNT team, it piqued his interest. When the Massapequa resident asked how they were picked, his buddies informed him that he had to raise his profile and be seen by league officials who were choosing players.
“They said I had to travel more, be out on the scene and the circuit,” Alfieri said. “I was traveling, but not as much as those two were. From 2018 until 2020, I made it a point to play in 30 or 40 tournaments. We were flying and playing in Texas, Florida, the Carolinas—all over the place. There was a professional flag football league that opened up called the AFFL [American Flag Football League] that kind of elevated my status. We made it as a top four team in that tournament and given the fact that two of my good friends were on the USA team, my name started being brought up into the mix. I got the call late 2019 around August that I was going to be selected for the preliminary team, which was a feat unto itself.”
Alfieri’s path to Spain started in January 2020 at a four-day tournament in Dallas. The quarterback was one of 20 players split into two squads—Stars and Stripes. Both groups then played against each other as well as teams from Canada, Japan and Israel. Alfieri’s team went undefeated and played in the championship broadcast on ESPN. It was quite a surreal experience for the district beverage sales manager for a company called Super Coffee.
“The experience of now being under that USA Football banner where there is money backing it and a budget….when we travel, they treat us like we’re professionals, which is pretty cool. Then you come back to the real world,” he said with a laugh.
With no sole governing body for organized flag football, there are instead organizations with alphabet soup names including the IFAF (International Federation of American Football), LIFFL (Long Island Flag Football League) and the FFWCT (Flag Football World Championship Tour) that promote teams that play under 9, 8, 7, 6, 5 and 4-player formats on each side. Through the years, Alfieri has learned to play all permutations of flag football, applying his expertise in reading defensive schemes to whatever situation he’s tapped to serve as a quarterback. And while his only pre-flag football experience was as a member of the Farmingdale Hawks in a pee-wee Pop Warner League, gridiron strategy was always a passion.
“When I got to middle school, I shifted my focus [from football] and became a basketball and baseball guy,” he recalled. “But for whatever reason, I was big on studying video—learning about X’s and O’s. I’m still like that to this day. There was no reason for it. I never played. But it kind of translated to playing with my buddies up until I was about 25 or 26, when it got serious enough for me to start traveling.”
For the five-man version of flag football, offense consists of a quarterback, center and three wide receivers. Defense is usually three defenders rushing with the remaining players falling into a Cover 2 zone. The 2021 IFAF Flag Football World Championships that Alfieri will be playing in on the island of Mallorca will be in a five-man format played on a field that is 25 yards wide by 75 yards long with 10-yard end zones and 50 yard expanse from goal line to goal line.
At 5’9”, guile, speed, passion and determination are what has elevated Alfieri through the ranks of a sport that operates in the shadow of college football and the National Football League. And while size and strength are major factors for tackle football success, Alfieri has seen how quick wits even the playing field in flag football, even when former pros are on the other side of the ball.
“When we started playing in the AFFL, which is a seven-on-seven, full-field league, former pros like Vince Young and Michael Vick were playing quarterback in that league,” Alfieri said. “These guys are phenomenal athletes, but watching them and their play calls, I felt like maybe throughout their college and NFL years, they were always scripted. Coaches would tell them what plays to run. But when it was up to them to call the plays, these teams lost. That’s when the [success] of the flag guys was higher than those former pros in that format.”
And while the pandemic made 2020 a wash for a number of sports including flag football, it proved to be a Godsend for Alfieri, who was rehabbing following the aforementioned surgeries.
“I’ve been playing with shoulder pain and shoulder injuries for the past couple of years,” he said. “Selfishly, COVID-19 gave me this time to get my body right. I planned on being ready for this Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend tournament, but my arm is not just there yet. In the five and a half months post-surgery, I put a lot of work into getting back, but it’s just not where I want it to be.”
In addition to the October Spain tournament, he’ll be heading over to Denmark in May to take the field against the world’s top flag national teams in a preliminary tourney. By the time Alfieri heads overseas in a few months, he’s convinced hard work and intensive physical therapy will find him ready to take the field.
“Keeping that vision for my passion is important and that’s something I try to keep in my mind all the time,” he said. “I go to a training facility five days a week, do specific workouts with guys and PT twice or three times a week. I do massage therapy and cryotherapy and all different types of things that are packed into my week. It’s all for me to play a sport that I love and thankfully got me to this level. The monetary effort I put into this might have some people on the outside asking what I’m doing. But I don’t let that deter me.”