When Alex Niznak signed on to quarterback the Joao Pessoa Espectros earlier this year in the BFA, Brazil’s top league, he was expectant, but had no idea of the impact he would have.
This past weekend, Niznak and the Espectros silenced the doubters by defeating the Galo FA from Belo Horizonte in Brazil, snapping an incredible 44 game Galo winning streak and qualifying for the Brazilian championship game for the sixth time since 2012.
With the Espectros, the 6’4″, 225 lb Niznak , who played collegiately at Central Michigan and Southwest Missouri State, is playing for his fourth international team in the past three years. He played for Sweden’s Tyreso Royal Crowns in 2016 guiding the team to the Swedish quarterfinals and then spent the fall season in Brazil with the Recife Mariners also reaching the playoffs. He joined the Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers of Japan’s X League, the top level of football in Japan for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
The Espectros will face the Timbo Rex in the Brazilian championship game on Saturday, December 14.
AFI: You have played in Sweden, Brazil and Japan. What brought you back to Brazil?
Niznak: I have been very fortunate to meet amazing people everywhere I have been, The last couple years living in Japan was an incredible experience both on and off the field and one day I may return there. But this year the opportunity to come back to Brazil and join the Espectros push for a championship was an opportunity I could not pass up.
AFI: How did you end up signing with the Espectros?
Niznak: Espectros leadership contacted me when I was in the United States visiting family and they sold me on their vision of how we could both get back to being a champion together and after a few talks I was sold on the plan.
AFI: You have now taken the Espectros to the championship final, snapping the Galo’s 44 game winning streak in the bargain. Describe the feeling.
Niznak: Beating Galo was a stepping stone for this program. To beat a team with 44 straight wins is a difficult task, but I think our win means more than that. Yes it was a playoff win, and yes it punched our ticket to the Brazil Bowl, but it’s deeper than that. After the game I was taking pictures with fans and hugging players and coaches and I saw so many people crying and smiling. I think here in Brazil a win like that shows anything is possible. People here believed we could win that game even when it sounded crazy to people outside of our great city. I think there is a great life message in that story.
AFI: This is the first time you have led a team this far. Did you have a sense that this year would be this successful?
Niznak: I think everywhere I have been there has always been a plan to be successful but in football you really control so little of your own destiny. All you can do is work hard every day and do your best to control what you can control. Here we always had a plan and expectation to be where we are now. And to answer your question, yes, after I met the leaders of the team and saw their focus and expectations I had a feeling this year we had a real chance to do something special.
AFI: You have a running back in Carlos Cox who plays both ways and rushed for a crucial 60 yard touchdown to seal the game while Jonatha Carvalho was a workhorse. In other words, your ground game is better than solid. Will you change up your offense much?
Niznak: Our success this year has been built on our ability to game plan and adjust to what is required. There were games where we had to throw it a bunch of times and other games where we found new ways to run the ball. For the Brazil Bowl our goal will be to be balanced in our attack, but we have different benchmarks for what “balanced” means to us. Ultimately we want the ball in our playmakers hands as they are putting points on the board, that’s our mission every time we run on the field.
AFI: Can you compare the levels of football in Europe, Brazil and Japan?
Niznak: I get this question a lot and I think it’s unfair to try to answer it because one of the best parts of our game is every country plays football through the cultural lenses they poses. It would be hard for me to explain to a Brazilian the feeling of watching a Ritsumeikan vs KG Playoff Game in Japan or the concept and structure of company teams like we see in the JXB this year with Panasonic vs Fujitsu. Alternatively, a Japanese football fan probably would not understand thousands of fans coming to a playoff game with drums and other things to make noise to try to help the defense make a goal line stand like we saw here in Brazil last week. So I think the best way to approach international football is to enjoy the game everywhere and try to learn from everyone’s differences.
AFI: What have been the best experiences you have had so far?
Niznak: I think on the field beating Mariners, beating Galo, and all the time and work it took to play and coach at the same time in Japan are some of my best experiences so far. Off the field there are many more. Lots of travel, nature trips all over the world, meeting great people, making new friends, and learning about life and football every day has forced me to grow but also showed me new possibilities and I have really enjoyed that aspect of this profession.
AFI: Finally, on a more personal note, do you have any “new” favorite foods
Niznak: I don’t know if I can all anything new at this point haha I do love Caju Juice and Acai but I really miss good sushi so I guess it all evens out hahaha