BARNSTORMERS SPOTLIGHT: Dynamic Duo
Two peas in a pod. That’s the best way to describe the relationship between Iowa Barnstormers offensive linemen Rocco Manfre and Peter Evans. Another way to describe them is inseparable.
Manfre, who grew up in Neptune, New Jersey and Evans, who hails from Laconia, New Hampshire, first met in 2009 as freshmen offensive linemen at Marist University in Poughkeepsie, New York. They played next to one another on the line, Manfre at left guard and Evans at left tackle. It didn’t take long for the two New Englanders to become friends.
“We were just two weird individuals with weird personalities who just glued together,” said Evans. “We would pull pranks on each other all the time.” Manfre adds that this immediate friendship was beneficial on another level. “It’s often said that the best offensive lines in football are comprised on individuals who gel well together, not only on the field but off the field as well.”
On the field, Manfre and Evans went through some early woes. As sophomores, Evans was sidelined with a broken foot while Manfre was derailed by academic troubles. Upon their return, the two began making an impact. In their senior year in 2013, Marist won the Pioneer Football League title. Evans and Manfre played a big part in the Red Foxes’ success, both receiving all-conference honors (Evans first team and Manfre second team). Both also received invitations to participate in the Senior Scout Bowl in Miami, Florida.
After graduating from Marist, Manfre and Evans took different paths before eventually reuniting in Des Moines. Manfre signed on with the Tampa Bay Storm, but was cut after only one month with the Arena Football League squad. Manfre then returned to New Jersey where he joined the now defunct Trenton Freedom of the Indoor Professional Football League. It was during this time that Manfre received a phone call that would eventually change his path.
“Coach Brannen called and asked if I would be interested in coming to play for the Iowa Barnstormers,” remembered Manfre. “However, the timing was not right for me because I was in a tough financial situation and it’s hard to keep bouncing around all over the country when you are in a low income situation.” Coach Brannen persisted and called Manfre again this past summer. Manfre was in a better position to make the move to Des Moines, but had one recommendation for Brannen. “I asked him if the team needed any more offensive linemen and suggested he also talk to Peter Evans.”
Brannen called Evans the following week. Meanwhile, Evans, who had played in Valencia Spain after leaving Marist, found himself at a crossroads in his football career. His dream, as is the case with most who play professional football at one level or another, is to make it to the NFL someday. Evans had been reaching out to friends for connections, the next connection would be the Iowa Barnstormers.
After they joined the Barnstormers roster and naturally became roommates, Manfre and Evans not only had the opportunity to reignite their friendship, but make new friendships as well. They are doing just that as they thrive on getting involved and interacting with the Des Moines community. Among the places the two have visited while representing the Barnstormers are the Iowa Children’s Cancer Connection and Passageway, a rehabilitation center.
“We just bring out our personalities wherever we go,” Manfre said. “For example, when we went out to the Children’s Cancer Connection, we had fun, we played with the kids. In fact, there was this little girl who had me tired from playing tag with her. It’s just who we are. Just to be able to bring that out to the community and show people who we are, be ourselves with people and do something for them, it’s the most rewarding thing in the world.”
Evans sees his community involvement as a blessing. “Every opportunity you get, you should put effort into it,” he stated. “I’m a big believer in faith and I believe that God puts us into certain positions. He knows that we are going to change somebody’s day. We don’t just go through the motions. Rocco and I set up an ice cream social at Passageway. When the folks there saw us, they jumped out of their chairs. It’s just a great feeling to be part of a community and have such an impact on that community.”
Neither Manfre nor Evans had ever lived in the Midwest before, but both have learned to appreciate Des Moines. “The people here are phenomenal, really great and very nice,” Evans said. “When you walk into a store here, folks ask you when you are going to come back. On the east coast, they just say ‘what do you want’ and you get it and go.” Manfre says he has had to learn to adjust to a different lifestyle since coming to Des Moines. “Everything I do is fast. I talk fast, I drive fast. I have discovered that everything here is a little bit slower-paced. But Des Moines has great people, great food, and great nightlife.” Of course, both Manfre and Evans, who refer to themselves as the Bash Bros and the Dynamic Duo, would love to someday play in the NFL; but, if that doesn’t happen they have backup plans. “If I don’t remain in football in some capacity, I would look into pharmaceutical sales or some other kind of sales,” said Evans. “I know I can make a lot of money because I have the personality for that.”
Meanwhile, Manfre has three goals: get better at something every day, bring home a championship to the Iowa Barnstormers (that goal is, of course, shared by Evans), and get into coaching. “I have too much knowledge of football not to share it.”
Manfre does have one more challenge he is preparing to tackle. “I am training to take on the Emmenecker Challenge at Jethro’s.” He’s not sure when to take on this task. “It would have to be on a bye week since I wouldn’t be able to practice the next day. Or maybe right after the next game.” Evans says he will serve as Manfre’s cheerleader. “I’ll be the hype guy, spinning onion rings on my fingers, dumping beer and water on my head, getting everybody going. And that’s going to motivate him to finish.”
Because that’s what best friends do.
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