Nestled near the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Casal Palocco exhibits a perfect small-town Italian atmosphere. With tiny, tree-lined roads and an attitude that begs for residents to enjoy the outdoor setting, it caters to every need of a growing little boy.
Casal Palocco was his home.
Born just up the road in Rome, Lorenzo Costantini did not get to experience his Italian city for very long, though. The Red Brigades started entering the country during the Cold War, and his parents hoped for a better opportunity for their children. Costantini, the youngest of four, discovered his family would not only move, but change continents.
The choices? Australia or the United States. When Costantini’s father found a business partner in Houston, they traveled to New York before settling down in Texas.
Shifting across the Atlantic Ocean did not affect Costantini. With a father who built resorts around the world as an engineer, his childhood consisted of living in places like Brazil, Peru, Greece and Nigeria for six months at a time until he was 10.
The journey provided the Italian boy some incredible memories that will stay with him for the rest of his life.
“My favorite was Brazil. It was wild where we were living,” Costantini said. “My dad was building a resort on a desolate beach that was very hard to get to, and we lived at the edge of the Amazon on the ocean. We had two small shacks. In one shack was the people who were helping us live there, like cook for us, and we lived in the other one.
“I saw some of the most amazing stuff, like the wildest snakes, animals, blowfish and huge butterflies. You couldn’t walk around on your own pretty much. My most vivid memory was my mom, my brothers and I, as well as the little girl with the other family, walking down the long, desolate beach and a storm starts coming. We were way down, and far from our place. My mom said, `This looks bad.’ She had us all dig, and we dug up a hole in the beach and we all jumped in and put a blanket over us. The storm hit and the waves were coming, and the sand covered us. When it was over we had to uncover ourselves. That’s something that sticks in my mind forever.”
Costantini served up even more childhood moments from his days in South America.
“The only time we would see people was when they would come and do the construction (on the resort), so when they would leave, it was just us. One night we were playing poker with corn kernels, so my mom said, `Go get more corn kernels.’ I remember walking outside and grabbing a handful of them in the dark, and I came back in and everybody started screaming. I was covered with these massive ants. So of course they bit me all over.
“I also saw Macumba when I was 8-years old. It’s the black magic that Brazilians do, and they go into desolate places like that. I remember walking with my brother down the beach and we saw a little altar built, and there are these black candles and red candles and chicken legs. It’s voodoo magic. My brother grabbed one of the candles, and the maid’s daughter started screaming. We weren’t sure what she was doing, and we couldn’t understand her Portuguese, so my brother dropped it. She was trying to tell him that they say that if you touch an altar or grab something from an altar, your fingers will fall off. So the little girl was worried. Every day she would check his hand to make sure he had his fingers.”
Meeting so many people from several different countries enabled Costantini to eventually pick up a few languages. It also helped that in Italy, children learn French and German before high school. Although Italian was his native tongue, he also is fluent in Spanish and has picked up some Portuguese and German along the way.
English came later, after he moved to America when he was 10-years old. And it came quickly as well.
“When I came over and they put me in elementary school, I still remember that I couldn’t understand anything they were saying,” Costantini reflected. “And the teacher knew that. But she couldn’t figure out why that I would get 100s on math tests. Well, when my mom took me to the school, they wanted to put me in ESL – English as a Second Language. And she told them, `My son is not dumb. He’s going to learn English in six months. You wait and see.’ So she threw me in regular classes. And in six months I could speak English.”
This was no ordinary kid the United States just received. Maybe that’s why he ultimately evolved into a football coach.
Costantini already found rugby, boxing and soccer to be entertaining enterprises, yet when he moved to Texas, football took top billing.
“I didn’t start playing football until I was a freshman in high school, at Stratford High School, the same high school that Andrew Luck and Craig James went to,” Costantini said. “My parents wouldn’t let me do it though. I would beg them every year. Seventh grade, `No.’ Eighth grade, `No.’ My dad didn’t want me to play a game he didn’t understand. He didn’t mind violence, and my brother was an All-American rugby player. He just thought it was silly.
“Well, they left to go on vacation in Cancun when school was getting ready to start. And they left my older sister in charge of all of us. Football is starting at high school, and I wanted to play. So I went to the school to register and told the football coach, `I want to play football.’ So he gave me all of the waivers that I needed, and I brought them all home. But I couldn’t play until my mom and dad could sign it. So my sister signed it, and signed all of my waivers under her name. I started playing, and when my parents came back, my sister said, `Lorenzo is doing really well in football.’ And they reacted with a, `What?!’ They let me play and the rest is history.”
After Costantini’s sister encouraged trouble, his high school coach would end up keeping the youngster out of trouble and on a straight line. To this day, his son is Costantini’s best friend and they both see each other when he goes out recruiting.
Not only did Costantini create a passion for football while in Houston, he also met his soon-to-be wife. Married since 1995, Lorenzo and Merritt discovered each other when they were in the wedding of their good friends. They dated for 2-3 years before tying the knot themselves.
Still embracing his roots and his love for his aunts, uncles and cousins in Europe, Costantini was able to take his bride to Italy to meet all of his relatives once they got married. But 10 years have passed since the last trip, and Costantini is hoping that will change very soon.
When the destination is a scenic town between the Mediterranean and Rome, that sounds like a pretty relaxing location to revisit one’s heritage. Hopefully Casal Palocco does not boast any ferocious flesh-eating ants.