The Asahi Soft Drinks Challengers of Japan’s X League, the top level of football in Japan, have signed quarterback Alex Niznak for the 2017 season.
The Challengers reached the quarterfinals of the X League in 2016 before succumbing to the eventual champions the Fujitsu Frontiers.
Niznak, 6’4″, 225 lb, who played collegiately at Central Michigan and Southwest Missouri State will now be playing for his third international team in a year. 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.
This is not his first trip to Japan however. Early in 2016, the Obic Seagulls came calling for a quarterback but after a gruelling back-and-forth interview process ultimately picked UCLA’s Jerry Neuheisel over him.
In other words, 2016 was a busy football year to say the least for Niznak.
We caught up with Alex as he was preparing to head over the Japan to participate in the spring X League tournament, the Pearl Bowl.
American Football International: You have played in Sweden and Brazil. Why the move to Japan?
Alex Niznak: I had an amazing time living and playing in Stockholm and in Recife. Both places are amazing and filled with outstanding people. The opportunity to move to Japan and join the Challengers and the X League was one i simply could not pass up. The passion and the vision for football in Japan excites me and i consider it a real honor to be a part of it.
AFI: How did you end up signing with Asahi?
Niznak: Football is a unique kind of business. It is honestly kind of hard to explain the entire process that went into bringing me to Japan. It was filled with a lot of networking and talks. My belief has always been that you win with good people, that is true in football, in business, and in life. The Challengers organization has great people and i am happy to be a part of it.
AFI: Can you compare the levels of football in Europe and Brazil?
Niznak: There is some great football in both Europe and Brazil. In Europe there is an outstanding tradition with football that is growing every year. In Brazil football is relatively new but the excitement is very real. I was amazed with the passion and the drive of the Brazilian people. I believe football in Brazil is just getting started, and I will be following it very closely this year. And as always there is no better place to be in Brazil than Recife and look for Coach Richard and the Mariners to be National Champions this fall, you heard it here first!
AFI: What have been the best experiences you have had so far?
Niznak: Well first I have to say that my experience with international football has changed my life. I started out as a small town farm kid from Michigan and now i have the best job in the world. From Mid-Summer in Sweden to the Olympic Games in Rio to Sakura in Japan, international American football has provided me life experiences I will have forever. Traveling all over the world working with football and teaching football has been to me like finding a calling in life. I could not be prouder of the work I have been able to do and the countless amazing people i have met and worked with along the way. In Japan I have loved not only getting to know Asahi and the people that are part of the Challengers organization but also the people of Osaka and western Japan. I meet someone new almost every day. I have seen so much history and culture that it amazes me, and i am still just getting started!
AFI: When do you start playing in Japan?
Niznak: Japan is a little bit different than other places. We will play the spring season starting in a month. After that we will go through summer training and report to training camp before we start the official X League season in the fall ending with the Japan Bowl and Rice Bowl.
AFI: What do you bring to the Challengers?
Niznak: First and foremost I bring an excitement to be in Japan and an excitement for the game of football. One of the reasons I believe the Challengers are a great fit is because their program goals mirror my own personal goals very closely. We want to work hard and pay the price it takes to be champions every day. We want to win and with the right way. As a quarterback I am excited to get on the field and compete with an outstanding group of guys in the huddle and as a teammate I want to focus on being the best member of the organization I can be on a daily basis.
AFI: The top 5 teams in Japan are tough. What are your expectations for this season?
Niznak: I have a great deal of respect for every team in this league. It is quality league from top to bottom and there is good football to watch every week. Our goals for this season and hopefully for seasons to come will always be to compete for a championship in all we do. It is a new time here, you can feel the excitement in the building and I think it is going to be fun football to watch!
AFI: Do you have any “new” favorite foods?
Niznak: Anyone that knows me know eating is something i am always down for. I have always liked sushi but the sushi in Japan is unlike anything anywhere else on Earth. I love it. I have tried so many new foods since I have been here and they have all been good. Once I learned how to use chopsticks it was a race to see how many new things I could try. This race is still going!
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