How Brock Olivo connected with his Italian roots and changed his future

0

Brock Olivo’s parents could have been HGTV stars had they been born to this era. Honestly, it’s not hard to imagine.

“I’m David Olivo, and this is my wife, Vicki, and our two children, Brock and Daisy. After my NFL career ended, Vicki and I found a new passion together, moving into old homes and renovating them before moving on to the next one. Welcome to ‘Bringing the House.’”

The couple paid the bills with other work — David was a high-school teacher and football coach, and Vicki dabbled in real estate and antiques — but home renovation was their passion.

But they didn’t invest in just any kind of houses. They focused on old buildings. One of the Olivos’ homes, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote in 1987, was built around 1850, and since its construction circa 1850 by a German baker, it had been a winery and a hospital during the Civil War.

In their line of work, they were careful to retain the character of these homes while updating certain aspects like kitchen appliances or bathroom fixtures.

Mixing the modern with the vintage was a point of pride, a reflection of their life as Italian-Americans. And from the lessons of his youth, Brock knew he was destined to follow chase his Italian heritage wherever he could.

“That’s kind of how I grew up,” the young Olivo says. “My parents always bought these old homes and restored them and so it was this rustic setting, but they would throw these great, new kitchens in there or these bathrooms. So it was this rustic with the modernity of the new. I guess I’ve always had that in my background, and I just never knew how much I appreciated it until I matured and saw the contrast between America and Italy, and the beauty of combining the two.

“My gosh, what a beautiful phenomenon.”

***

Brock Olivo had always been fascinated by his Italian roots.

At Christmastime, the Olivos usually visited his paternal grandparents’ house in Arnold, Pennsylvania. The children of Italy-born immigrants, they spoke Italian or an Italian-English mix in their homes.

“To me, it was like warping to another era,” Olivo says. “My parents would take us to Pennsylvania for Christmas, and it was this completely different world. Now I’m hearing Italian, eating grandma’s homemade ravioli and cantucci, and all these things, and the coffee and Italian wine.”

As a curious child, Olivo would ask his father or uncle what was being said in Italian, and eventually his grandfather began teaching him the language.

Decades later, after a prolific football career at the University of Missouri and a short NFL career, he decided to truly explore his family’s background firsthand by moving to Italy in the spring of 2002 to play for the S.S. Lazio Marines in the Italian Football League.

The significance of the trip, if he hadn’t been able to fully understand it before, became apparent as soon as the country became visible in a window on his airplane.

“I remember the descent into Rome and seeing the countryside and thinking, ‘Wow, this is surreal,'” Olivo says. “It was emotional for me, because nobody from my family had been back on Italian ground since my great-grandfather left back in 1918. It was many years — almost a century later — that an Olivo went back.”

That summer, he would return home to the U.S., but he knew he’d be back.

“I knew there was more to be discovered in Italy for me,” Olivo says. “No question. I left a lot of doors open.”

After living to the U.S. for six years, he went back to Italy to coach the same S.S. Lazio Marines and the Italian National Football Team from 2009-11.

This time, Olivo was able to fully immerse himself in Italian life. That, of course, begins with coffee.

***

Coffee is valuable to most NFL coaches, but it is more valuable to Brock Olivo.

Prior to living in Italy, Olivo had been just a “regular coffee drinker,” as he puts it. Drip coffee, no cream, no sugar.

But by the time he left, Olivo understood that distinct part of Italian culinary culture, and it “Italianized” him.

“Regarding coffee, [it’s] more artisanal,” he says. “You have to have your coffee a certain way. The typical Italian puts a teaspoon of sugar into his or her espresso, but the hardcore, true connoisseurs of it don’t. They want to taste it black. They want to taste all the essentials of the coffee. It’s almost, nowadays, for lack of better terms, sommeliers of coffee, people who take it that seriously. I’m not — I’m far from that. I just appreciate it. And I appreciate the way their coffee culture is preserved. Even the young generations, they stick to the books. It’s very cool. I love it.”

To be indoctrinated as he was, Olivo simply observed the process and felt a connection with the culture.

“I really admire the way that they preserve traditions,” Olivo says. “I love the fact that you can walk into an Italian café and there’s a real barista making real espresso, not some automatic push-a-button-and-it-comes-out [process]. No, he or she is grinding the beans, they’re tamping it, they’re pulling the shot for the right amount of time and they’re serving it to you, as if every individual one was the only one they’re going to make that day.”

Italian traditions imparted an intimate authenticity, which is a feeling Olivo cherishes.

“When you think about Italy, one of the things you think about is the Italian food culture, but that encompasses a lot of stuff,” Olivo says. “It’s food, wine, agriculture. Most of the stuff grown in Italy is organic by nature. They don’t label it organic because it is organic; that’s how they’ve always been and how they’ve maintained it. So I learned about that. I learned about winemaking. I learned how to harvest olives. I went and saw the olive-oil process. And my wife being from there, [being] Sicilian, I learned how to make bread, cannoli, various types of stuff. So cooking obviously has been something that I’ve learned. Now, I’m not really passionate about all that stuff — cooking and whatnot — but just being there and being part of that culture, in a sense, you learn it. It’s infectious. It really is. I’m fascinated by the way that they do things, the way they do things as they did 100 years ago.”

***

Two months before he left Italy in 2011, Brock Olivo met the woman he would one day marry.

But long before that could happen, he returned to America and put more than 5,000 miles between them.

Olivo had found a job coaching the United Football League’s Omaha Nighthawks. Then he moved on to coaching running backs and special teams at Coastal Carolina.

“We did long distance, real long distance,” Olivo says with a laugh. “We defined the term for a while.”

A couple years later, Federica moved to America with her daughter, Sofia, and their family became complete.

Olivo had gone to Italy in search of a connection to his ancestry and his family’s history, and he ended up finding his family’s future.

Reflecting on his journey, Olivo couldn’t help but think of how it all began when his great-grandfather left his homeland in 1918.

“The fact that he made that sacrifice at 18 years old to cross the Atlantic on his own and to allow us to be born and raised in the greatest country in the world, I mean, we feel forever indebted to him,” Olivo says. “So that’s why we kept his spirit alive, and that’s why I will never let it die. And my children will know that and really anyone who comes in contact with me feels that, as well, because it’s important to me.”


Source link