Frank Villa
Villa cropped from 1893 Michigan Wolverines football team portrait
Date of birth: (1873-01-29)January 29, 1873
Place of birth: Oregon
Date of death: November 12, 1933(1933-11-12) (aged 60)
Place of death: Watertown, Wisconsin
Career information
Position(s): Tackle
Height: 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m)
 As player:
Career highlights and awards
Awards: All-Western, 1895

Giovanni Raphael Frank Villa (January 29, 1873 – November 12, 1933), also known as "Count Villa" or "the Count," was an American football player, judge, and consular official. He played college football for Whitman College in 1893 and for the University of Michigan from 1893 to 1896. He was selected as a first-team All-Western player in 1895. He later became a consular official for Italy, a judge and gold prospector in Alaska, and a representative of the Great Northern Railroad. He also served in the U. S. Army during World War I.

Early yearsEdit

Villa was born in Oregon in 1873.[1] His father, Frank Villa, Sr., was an immigrant from Genoa, Italy. His mother, Mary (Reible) Villa was an immigrant from Switzerland. Villa had four sisters, Mamie, Amelia, Harriet and Eleanor. In November 1878, the family relocated to 35-acre farm in Walla Walla, Washington. The family raised fruits and vegetables on the farm, selling their produce to local markets.[2][3]

Villa enrolled at Whitman College in Walla Walla. While attending Whitman, he played on the college's first football team. The college's first football game took place on February 22, 1893, against a team of locals from Walla Walla. Whitman won the game, 16-0. An account of the game written years later emphasized Villa's imact: "The notable player on this team was Frank Villa, or Count Villa, as he was popularly known."[4]

University of MichiganEdit

In the fall of 1893, Villa enrolled in law school at the University of Michigan. He received his Bachelor of Law degree in 1896.[5] While attending law school, and during one year of post-graduate legal studies, he played for the Michigan Wolverines football team from 1893 to 1896. During these years, the Michigan football program rose to prominence. After compiling an 11-9 record in the two years before Villa arrived, the Wolverines improved steadily and compiled a 33-6-1 during the four years that Villa was a starter. The team improved to 7-3 in 1893 and lost only one game per year in 1894, 1895, and 1896.[6][7][8][9]

During the 1894 season, Villa was a key player on the Michigan team that compiled a 9–1–1 record and defeated Cornell, marking "the first time in collegiate football history that a western school defeated an established power from the east."[7][10] Despite playing at the tackle position, he was one of the team's most reliable ball carriers and scored two touchdowns against Olivet College on October 17, 1894.[11] Several weeks later, a game against Oberlin College drew the largest crowd in the history of Regents Field up to that time. Villa ran 40 yards for a touchdown against Oberlin and drew praise from the Detroit Free Press: "Villa was particularly good and did brilliant work on the offense and defense."[12]

Villa continued to be a key player and ball carrier for the 1895 team. He scored two touchdowns against Western Reserve and another against Oberlin. In the 1896 University of Michigan yearbook, team captain Edwin Denby credited Villa for his efforts in a close 12-10 victory over Purdue: "It was exhilerating [sic] to note how when Villa took the ball and plunged through the Purdue line as the beautiful lady in the circus jumps through paper hoops, the rest of the Michigan men slouched down the field, crushing and driving everything before them by sheer muscle and determination."[13] At the end of the 1895 season, Villa was selected as a first-team All-Western player by Chicago's Daily Inter Ocean. In announcing its selection of Villa, the newspaper wrote: "Villa is the best tackle of this season, as he was of last. His immense strength and weight, added to his cleverness and agility, make him a powerful man."[14]

Despite receiving his law degree in the spring of 1896, Villa undertook post-graduate legal studies and returned to play on the 1896 football team.[15] In September 1896, the Chicago Daily Tribune wrote: "Frank Villa will be in his old position at left tackle. The 'Count,' as he is generally called, is one of the greatest ground gainers in the West and plays a good defensive game."[16]He scored two touchdowns in an early victory over the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Chicago and was credited with brilliant work against Lehigh.[17][18]

In November 1896, Henry Senter resigned as the team's captain due to injury and illness, and Villa was elected to replace him as team captain.[19] In December 1896, the Detroit Journal published an account of a sleigh accident in which Villa was thrown 33 feet and landed on his head, but suffered no injuries. The story described Villa as "Ann Arbor's most famous football player" and joked that "it makes one's blood run cold to think what might have happened had he fallen on his feet."[20]

Following his death in 1933, a Michigan alumnus in the Chicago Daily Tribune recalled Villa this way:

"All but forgotten by present day Michigan rooters, he was one of the giants of an earlier pre-Yost Wolverine era. What a tackle he was! He weighed well over 200 pounds and was built like a water tank. He was a star of the Harvard-Michigan game at Cambridge in 1895 which Harvard won 4 to 0. . . . Swaggering down the street in a heavy blue turtleneck varsity sweater of the day, he was held in great awe by the freshmen, of whom I was one, and he returned their timid salutes with his characteristic grin."[21]

Villa returned to Ann Arbor during the 1897 and 1898 football seasons and served as an assistant coach under his former teammate, Gustave Ferbert. The 1898 team was undefeated and won Michigan's first Western Conference football championship.[22][23][24]

Later yearsEdit

In August 1897, Villa traveled for the first time to Alaska. He lived there for parts of the next several years. At the time of the 1900 United States Census, he was living in Nome, Alaska.[25] From 1899 to 1901, he traveled between Alaska and his home in Walla Walla, Washington.[25] While living in Alaska, Villa served for a time as a judge.[26] A newspaper story in May 1900 indicated that his former Michigan teammates, Gustave Ferbert and William "High" Allen, were joining Villa in Alaska to prospect in the Nome gold fields.[27]

While living in Walla Walla, Villa was a member of the Washington Fruit and Produce Company and served as a college football official.[4][28] In September 1901, Villa married Marry McCabe.[28] He also served as an assistant football coach at Washington Agricultural College (now known as Washington State University) in the fall of 1901 under head coach William Namack.[29]

In 1904 and 1905, he served for a time as the Italian consular agent at Seattle.[30][31][32] His fruit business eventually failed, and Villa began working as a railroad contractor.[33]

During World War I, Villa served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Company A of the 22nd Engineers. He served from August 5, 1918, until August 14, 1919.[1][34]

After the war, Villa reportedly worked as a customs agent for the Great Northern Railroad.[34] At the time of the 1920 United States Census, Villa was living in Medina, Washington, with his wife Mary and daughter Celine (age 14). His employment was listed as an assistant agent for the railroad.[35] At the time of the 1930 United States Census, Villa was still living in Medina, and his employment was listed as a dock master's assistant for the railroad.[36]

Villa and his wife travelled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in approximately 1931 to visit their daughter, Mrs. Herbert J. Steffes.[34] In November 1931, Villa was stricken with heart disease and was admitted to the U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Milwaukee. He was transferred to the Veteran's Hospital at Watertown, Wisconsin, on October 15, 1933. He died there on November 12, 1933, at age 60. The cause of death was listed as myocarditis.[1] [37]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Veteran's Affairs Record for Frank Villa, born January 29, 1873, in Oregon. U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938 [database on-line].
  2. William Denison Lyman. An Illustrated History of Walla Walla County, State of Washington (Volume 1). p. 417.
  3. Nick Tomassi. "Italian Pioneers of Walla Walla Wine".
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ellsworth W. Thorpe. "Whitman's Great Ride Saved Football in Empire". Spokane Daily Chronicle: p. 11.,5727741.
  5. "The Largest on Record: List of Graduates to be Given Degrees". Detroit Free Press: p. 2. June 24, 1896.
  6. "1893 Football Team". University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "1894 Football Team". University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library.
  8. "1895 Football Team". University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library.
  9. "1896 Football Team". University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library.
  10. "University of Michigan Football Coaches: William L. McCauley". University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library.
  11. "Michigan Played a Strong Game". Detroit Free Press: p. 2. October 18, 1894.
  12. "Michigan and Oberlin Played Well". Detroit Free Press: p. 7. November 18, 1894.
  13. Edwin Denby (1896 (vol.38)). The Football Season of 1895. The Palladium. Retrieved 2009-12-18.
  14. "Got 'Em On The List: Men Who Would Form an Ideal Western Team; Come From Six Colleges; Michigan Heads the Roll With Six of Her Men". Daily Inter Ocean. December 9, 1895.
  15. 1897 Michiganensian. University of Michigan. 1897.;view=image;q1=villa.
  16. "Ann Arbor Football Promising: Most of the Old Men to Return--Schedule of Games". Chicago Daily Tribune: p. 12. September 7, 1896.
  17. "Doctors Shut Out: Michigan Defeats Chicago College of Physicians and Surgeons; 'Varsity in Good Form; Wins by Team Work and Sure Interference". Daily Inter Ocean. October 16, 1896.
  18. "Michigan Scores at Will: Easily Defeats Lehigh by Score of 44 to 0". The Daily Inter Ocean. November 1, 1896.
  19. "New Captain for Michigan's Team: Frank Villa Is Chosen to Succeed Senter, Resigned". Chicago Daily Tribune: p. 7. November 21, 1896.
  20. ""Count" Villa's Head: If He Can Land on That, He is All Right". Ann Arbor Argus (reprint from the Detroit Journal). January 15, 1897.
  21. E. A. Davis (December 15, 1933). "In the Wake of the News". Chicago Daily Tribune.
  22. "1897 Football Team". University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library.
  23. "1898 Football Team". University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library.
  24. "Great Coaching Force: "Count" Villa, Famous at Ann Arbor; Old Timers Getting Ready for the Alumni Game". Detroit Free Press: p. 6. October 27, 1898.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Census entry for Frank Villa, born 1873, August 1897 listed as "Date of Locating in Alaska." Walla Walla, Washington, listed as "Post Office Address at Home." 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Year: 1900; Census Place: Nome, Northern Supervisors District, Alaska; Roll: T623; Page: 52B; Enumeration District: 3.
  26. "Former Judge in Alaska Dies in Milwaukee: Frank Villa Who Was Italian Consular Agent at Seattle Succumbs to Heart Attack". Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: p. 1. November 18, 1933.
  27. "Upsets Michigan Football: Coach Ferbert, Allen and Villa get Gold Fever and Go to Cape Nome". Wisconsin State Journal: p. 1. May 2, 1900.
  28. 28.0 28.1 "Walla Walla County". The Twice-a-Week Spokesman-Review: p. 6. September 5, 1901.,579958&dq=villa+whitman+football+walla-walla&hl=en.
  29. "Will Have Good Football Team: Washington Agricultural College Is Preparing for a Busy Season". Morning Oregonian. September 11, 1901.;words=Count+Walla+Villa.
  30. "Villa, Former Michigan Grid Star, Is Buried". Chicago Daily Tribune: p. 31. November 17, 1933.
  31. Official Congressional Directory. Government Printing Office. 1904. p. 334.
  32. Official Congressional Directory. Government Printing Office. 1905. p. 334.
  33. "Team Talk". The Michigan Alumnus. November 17, 1921. p. 183.
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 "Frank Villa". The Milwaukee Journal. November 14, 1933.
  35. Census entry for Frank Villa, age 47, born in Oregon, father born in Italy, mother born in Switzerland. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Place: Medina, King, Washington; Roll: T625_1924; Page: 13B; Enumeration District: 11; Image: 274.
  36. Census entry for Frank Villa, age 55, born in Oregon, father born in Italy, mother born in Switzerland. 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Place: Medina, King, Washington; Roll: 2490; Page: 4A; Image: 717.0; Family History Library Film: 2342224.
  37. "Michigan Star Dies After Long Illness". Wisconsin State Journal (UP story): p. 19. November 17, 1933.
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