Former FAMU kicking coach had a passion for boxing, too

st clair


Back in 2009 when Tavoris Cloud was preparing to challenge for the vacant IBF light heavyweight title, Tony Messina showed up at his training camp.

Minutes after hopping out of the car following the drive from Tallahassee to Ocala, Messina rushed to meet Al Bonnani. Messina smiled broadly.

Finally he was meeting the man who trained Cloud, who eventually became the first world champion from Tallahassee. The conversation between the two went on until Messina had to leave.
Bonnani decided to do his homework on the white-hair guy who seemed to know so much about boxing. His uncle Jerry Atardi provided the answers.

Bonnani won his respect for being more humble than most with the kind of knowledge he had of the sweet science.

“Tony was a real, real boxing fan,” Bonanni said. “He knew the history. He was always nice to be around.”

Messina, who died a week ago at age 81, will be remembered in these parts mostly for spending more than two decades as a kicking coach at FAMU, though. Some might even recall how his involvement in FAMU football started as the man who took team film.

Messina was passionate about the game. So much so that he tried to walk-on at Florida State. He was in his forties.

The story is true. Too many sources have verified for it to be otherwise. So are all of stories he told his players about his time in the Coast Guard and other life experiences.

“The most interesting guy in the world,” said former FAMU kicker Juan Vasquez who played four seasons under Messina. “He always had some kind of story.”

Oh yeah, he told Vasquez the one about the time he went to Fifth Street Gym in Miami and sparred with an undefeated champion. Messina floored him, then left the ring.

Bonnani’s uncle remembers Messina as being a strong fighter, who had a short career.
“He was always in great condition,” said Bonnani, “but he didn’t box too long.”

He never lost his passion for the game, though.

Messina watched many televised fights. He didn’t miss one involving Cloud. Travis Walker, another former world-ranked Tallahassee boxer was one of his favorites, too.

The day after, he’d call with his critique. If he was in front of me, he’d demonstrate how the action should have gone.

He did the same when he was a kicking coach. There was no excuse for not doing it the way he taught.
The ones who didn’t listen didn’t get too much of his attention.

Vasquez can attest to that. He was two-time All-American.

“From Day 1, I listened to everything he said and did things the way he wanted,” Vasquez said. “I knew for 20-plus years everyone who played for him was an All-American.”

He was a detailed man. He even told Vasquez when his hair wasn’t brushed correctly, he said.

And Messina never missed an opportunity to teach or coach.

“You could never take the coach out of him,” he said. “Everything he was doing was a coaching moment. If you were cutting the grass he would tell you how to cut the grass right. He was a perfectionist.”