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Hough not finished with football
The summer sun never fully sets in Finland, where Greg Hough went to keep playing football.
Not ready to quit the game but not quite NFL material when he graduated from Duquesne in December 2008, Hough, once a star fullback for the Dukes and at Pine-Richland High School, discovered a vibrant American football community overseas that helped rekindle his passion for the game.
Years after the NFL Europe ceased in 2007, hundreds of American football teams still exist across the continent, some of which have been around since the 1970s. They’re the equivalent of American semi-pro clubs, and they pay American players, or “imports,” to play for their teams and help grow the sport in their countries, where “football” alone means soccer.
Now back in Pittsburgh after last summer’s stint with the Tampere Saints of the Finnish Maple League, Hough might as well be Pittsburgh’s ambassador for American football in Europe.
“I should probably open an agency,” Hough joked. “A lot of guys think the NFL’s the only option, but there are opportunities in Europe, and you can have a fun time doing it.”
Several other local players, including two of Hough’s former Pine-Richland teammates, Greg Conti and Brian Overton, have played or are playing overseas.
Conti, a former Bucknell lineman, was Hough’s teammate in Tampere and is leaving Monday to play in Switzerland. Overton, a former receiver at West Virginia Wesleyan, played this past fall for the Cineplexx Blue Devils in Hohenems, Austria. And Luke McCann, once a Keystone Oaks and Wooster receiver, is now in Saarbrucken, Germany, playing for the Saarland Hurricanes.
“I couldn’t say one bad thing about it,” said Overton, who now works for an IT consulting firm in Green Tree. “I had lunch all the time up in the Austrian Alps.”
Overton heard of playing in Europe from Hough, who now helps with his family’s expanding business, Hough’s Bar & Restaurant in Greenfield. After Hough received no interest from NFL teams last spring, one of his graduate assistant coaches at Duquesne suggested playing in Europe. He told Hough to read “Playing for Pizza,” a John Grisham novel about an American football player who resurrects his career in Italy. Hough loved the book and created an account on Europlayers.com, the Web site where the Saints found him and offered him a spot.
He played five games for the Saints from mid-June to mid-August, not long enough to need a work visa. The team gave him housing, insurance, a daily meal, a gym membership and a weekly salary that allowed Hough to “break even” financially on the trip.
Since European teams want to cultivate the sport in their own communities, they only carry three American players on their rosters. The Americans, who typically have far more football knowledge than their European counterparts, are expected to play both ways and help coach the other players as well as kids in the community. Even without an NFL franchise in Europe, Hough’s teammates in Finland, most of whom had other jobs, would stay up late Sunday nights to watch live NFL games on a seven-hour time difference.
“They get excited over the little things – first downs, making a big catch,” Hough said. “Being in the United States, we take a lot for granted. They got me back to loving the game.”
Hough not finished with football
By Pat Mitsch, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW