At 6-foot-4, 278 pounds and blessed with size, speed and a healthy aversion for opposing quarterbacks, defensive lineman Chris Pisani commands a super-sized scouting report. For all his physical attributes, though, Pisani’s “high motor” (essential criterion for scouts) is powered by the intangibles most needed for gridiron gain: perseverance and heart.
A former three-sport star at Fenwick High School, Pisani’s dream of continuing to play football after college came true this year when he earned a coveted spot with the Chicago Slaughter, a semi-pro team. The 23-year-old Oak Park native was one of only two players selected from a pool of 100 during a tryout camp. After passing that cut, Pisani secured his spot on the team’s final 30-man roster, once again amid a field of 100 applicants.
“I got a call from the Slaughter and was told about a great opportunity to play football,” Pisani said. “This was my first year of professional football and it’s really been a great experience. I’ve met so many great people and this league is loaded with talented players.”
While adjusting to the indoor game of Continental Indoor Football League was difficult, Pisani ultimately found his niche as a special teams contributor and defensive lineman. The Slaughter (14-0) capped off their perfect season in June with a 58-48 win over the Fort Wayne Freedom to win the CIFL Championship at the Sears Centre.
“I never played the indoor game before this season,” Pisani said. “It’s a lot faster, a lot quicker. We played almost flawlessly all season and won the title with style. It was a great feeling because I’ve never been part of a winning football program.”
As the lone rookie this season, Pisani had 18 tackles, 2 ½ sacks and dressed for every game.
“Chris is a great teammate,” said Slaughter kicker Chris Nendick. “He has worked hard to get in the position that he’s in [with the Slaughter]. Character counts in this league and he certainly has plenty of that.”
Looking ahead, the young man with an affinity for sacks feels the best is yet to come.
“When the season started, I was very timid and kind of shy,” Pisani said. “In college, I was a team captain and the loud guy, an emotional leader on the field. It took me half way into my first season with the Slaughter to get back into that mood.”
Much of the Slaughter’s success can be attributed to head coach Steve McMichael, who played for the Super Bowl-shuffling 1985 Chicago Bears.
“Coach McMichael has been extremely influential,” Pisani said. “He was always helping me in practice and showing me things. During games, his presence is like having a player right next to you. If he sees something on the field, he’ll say, ‘do this next time.'”
In addition to the Bear forever known as “Mongo,” the Slaughter coaching and scouting staff is littered with former NFL players like Jim McMahon, Otis Wilson, Emery Moorehead, Mickey Pruitt, Ron Cox and Kent Graham offering their expertise.
Pisani’s biggest football hero, however, has always been his dad, Dominic.
Dominic Pisani played football at the University of Miami (1972-1976), a precursor of the Canes’ five title-run between 1983 and 2001.
“I always looked up to my dad when I was a kid,” Pisani said. “He taught me every sport and made me work for success. He told me, ‘I enjoy watching you play more then when I played’ which meant a lot.”
The Pisani clan, which includes Chris’ mom, Mary, and twin brother, Jon, carry a special admiration for Chris’ indomitable spirit borne partially from a horrific accident.
On June 15, 1998, Pisani, at the age of 12, was on his rollerblades heading for the Ridgeland Common swimming pool during summer vacation when a driver hit him and drove off never to be caught. After that shocking accident which caused broken legs and a broken left arm, Pisani endured the following medical ordeal: 12 surgeries, 15 total medical procedures that included having rods and pins inserted into his legs, and confinement to a wheelchair and crutches for more than half a year.
“The first day I was in the doctor’s office, I could see my legs were mangled,” he said. “I was 12 years old and it was demoralizing, but I just knew I would walk and run again. When I started to heal up, I was determined to play sports again with my friends.”
Buoyed by the support of his family, Pisani was back in the athletic mix amazingly soon. Within a year, Pisani taught himself to walk again.
After that therapeutic win, the determined Pisani progressed to playing football, wrestling and baseball at Fenwick. As a strong all-purpose football player, Pisani played defensive end, tight end and running back for the Friars.
“I made some lifetime friends while I attended Fenwick,” said Pisani, a 2004 graduate. “I loved growing up in Oak Park. Even now if I drive by Ridgeland Common, I think about the days I played Little League baseball.”
After high school, Pisani chose Oberlin College where he finished as the school’s all-time sack leader (22 ½ total) while posting a solid 3.2 grade-point average.
And regarding his remarkable history, Pisani is decidedly philosophical.
“You know June 15 [anniversary of the accident] recently passed and I honestly didn’t even put two and two together,” Pisani said. “I didn’t even think about it; I’ve put it behind me. But, I definitely would not have the same great work ethic [today] if it wasn’t for the accident. I truly believe everything happens for a reason and that God has a plan for me.”
With goals of pursuing pro football to the fullest, Pisani’s gracious perspective is palpable when he talks about the future.
“I’m doing well,” Pisani said. “I am a year out of college, playing semi-professional football, looking at some career opportunities and just taking one thing at a time. I can’t complain; life is good.”