Canadian athletes are finding American football abroad

When Rob Schaper-Kotter of Coquitlam, B.C., just outside of Vancouver, finished his junior (18-22 years of age) football career with the now defunct Vancouver Trojans, like so many other football players in Canada he had no idea where to turn to feed his urge to continue playing.

Then he discovered that they play football in Europe.

He discovered that there are more than 1,200 teams in 30 countries in Europe most looking for import players. Although there are restrictions on the number of foreign players allowed on each team, he managed to find teams and spent four years enjoying Europe and football.

Luke Zetazate from Brampton, Ontario also discovered it. In fact, he has turned it into a career. Now playing and coaching in Poland, Luke has bounced around Europe as well as his native Philippines for almost 10 years.

Still, given all the football that is played in Canada at universities, high schools and in community programs, not many other Canadians it seems have discovered this. According to Europlayers.com, the website that has been helping players and teams find each other for the past 15 years, since 2012 no more than about 100 Canadians have headed overseas to play football. That number will grow though as the word gets out that you can play football in Europe or in many other countries, and get paid for it. Not much mind you, but the cost of the airfare, plus housing, some cash and some form of transportation plus the opportunity to travel around Europe is not a bad deal. And you get to play a game you love.

We spoke with both Rob Schaper-Kotter and Luke Zetazate about their experiences playing a game they love on the other side of the world from Canada.

American Football International: Rob, how long did you play in Europe and for what teams?

Schaper Kotter: I played 4 seasons in Europe. First year for the Lappeenranta Rajaritarit in the div. 1 Maple League in Finland. Second year for the Stavanger AFC Show in the div. 1 league in Norway. Third year for the Helsinki Wolverines in the div. 1 maple league in Finland. Fourth year for the Wiesbaden Phantoms in the div. 2 league in Germany.

AFI: Was there any country you enjoyed more than the others?

Schaper-Kotter: The two seasons I played in Finland were my favorite. I tell everyone that Finland during summer time is really fun and is a must see. There’s something happening every day and night.

AFI: How about you Luke? You are still playing. How long have you been playing football in Europe and other parts of the world?

Luke Zetazate: I first came to Europe in 2006. I returned to North America 2008-2009 to play Arena Football. I was a part of Bossier Shreveport’s Battlewings Af2 Alaska Wild 2009 Indoor Footbal League.

AFI: How many different teams have you played and coached for and which ones?

Zetazate: The list over the past 11 years is long. Right now I am playing for the Warsaw Sharks in Poland. Before that the Radom Green Ducks also in Poland, the Manila Wolves ABP in the Philippines, the Seahawks Sopot in Poland as well as the Sopot Sabercats and the Gdynia Seahawks. I played for the Moscow Red Falcons in 2010 as well as the Oslo Vikings in Norway. I played Arena Ball with the Alaska Wild and the Bossier City Battlewings in 2009 and 2008. That same year I played in Sweden for the Stockholm Mean Machines. I also played for the Winterthur Warriors in Switzerland and the Lubeck Cougars in Germany. 

My coaching resume is just as long and includes almost all those teams but I also coached with the Polish national team, Moscow Red Falcons in Russia and I was the offensive coordinator for Team Canada Football U21 private traveling team in 2008.

AFI: Rob, how did you find out about playing in Europe?

Schaper-Kotter: I first heard about football overseas from a former coach of mine. Before learning that I thought my only options to continue my adult career were NFL and CFL.

AFI: You had a dual passport. Was that difficult?

Schaper-Kotter: Obtaining a dual passport was not very difficult for me. My Italian mother registered me as a dual citizen when I was born in Canada. When I decided to extend my football career to Europe, all I had to do was request an E.U. passport from the Italian consulate in Vancouver. It arrived in the mail a few weeks later.

AFI: Luke, how did you find out about it?

Zetazate: I found out about the presence of American football in Europe from a good friend of mine, Jeremy Kochberg. After he told me about his amazing experience playing in Europe, I became interested. I knew I still had a chance to play some place else in case my chances of playing professional football in North America doesn’t pan out. I created a Europlayers account and was signed to play for Lubeck in 2006, and as they say, the rest was history.

AFI: How have you benefited from the experience?

Zetazate: Where do I begin? Well, I learned a lot from playing in Europe than I expected. The plan was to play professional football overseas and experience different cultures at the same time. Playing in Europe gave me the opportunity to learn a lot, play for my motherland, the Philippines, and coach for a national football team.

Playing pro in Europe opened doors for a second career, that which is coaching. My experience reeled in various offers, including an offensive coordinator position for a college football team in the United States. The biggest benefit of playing professional football in Europe is that I successfully built solid relationships in and outside the gridiron. I was able to develop strong ties with management coaches and players not only for the teams I played for, but those from other teams as well. I was also blessed to meet great individuals outside the football field, some have become important people in my life too.

Playing in Europe has paved the way for me to learn many lessons not only about football, but life in general too

AFI: This is a crazy question for you Rob. Which foods did you enjoy?

Schaper-Kotter: I would have to say that eating out at Turkish restaurants was both affordable and the most satisfying. They are famous for their Kebabs but also make really good Pizza.

AFI: What was the level of football?

Schaper-Kotter: The level of football varies a little, depending on what country your in. I would compare football in Finland and Germany to a university level in Canada. Norway would be more like a semi pro/junior level in Canada.

AFI: Did you get a chance to travel much and if so where did you visit?

Schaper-Kotter: Playing in Scandinavia doesn’t really give you very much opportunity to travel because it’s not close enough to other countries to make travel fast and affordable. Germany on the other hand is very close to alot of different countries. My roommates and I were able to drive to Spain during a bye week and also take the train to the Netherlands. Playing football in Europe gives you alot of free time to explore and being in central Europe is by far the most affordable and time friendly way to do it.

AFI: Would you recommend the experience to other Canadians?

Schaper-Kotter: I would recommend playing in Europe to any player who has a genuine love for the game and travel. I wouldn’t trade those seasons over seas for anything. Even though my playing career is most likely finished, I’m always looking for an opportunity to go back.

AFI: Luke, what have been some memorable experiences?

Zetazate: I enjoy every moment that I am playing on the field and coaching players. Some playing and coaching moments that are memorable to me are: I was part of the championship game in Norway back in 2010 and Moscow championship in 2012. Those were definitely two of the greatest moments of my career. When I played in the Philippines for the Manila Wolves, I played quarterback and helped my team enjoy a perfect season, and bagging the championship in 2015. I played for Sopot Sabercats in Poland with an almost perfect record, 10-1 losing only in the last quarter during the PLFA finals. I am very proud to be the quarterback of Pilipinas Aguilas. Our national team won its first ever-international game against Korea Tigers.

After football season ended in the Philippines, I did play a bit of flag football with Team DC. Although a minor sport, I was able to create meaningful connections with fellow tackle football players from other teams. I was able to impart knowledge about football in my homeland, and that was very memorable to me as well.

My experience playing with the Sopot Seahawks stands outs as well. We began a humble team of 50 players. With hard work and dedication, we were able to bag the championship for two consecutive years. Lastly, I am very proud of my accomplishment as an offensive coordinator for the Polish National team. I was also a part of the first-ever Arena League in Poland.

AFI: We asked Rob this. Have you any favorite foods?

Zetazate: I love eating, but the two dishes that I love the most are Russian pierogies and bratwurst and Polish schnitzels.

AFI: How much longer will you continue?

Zetazate: I am in love with the game of football. This is evident in my passion on and off the field. There are only two things that can stop me from playing the game I love. First off, if my body is unable to take the pains and aches of training and playing, it’s time to retire as a player. Football is a very physical game, so if my body gives up on me, I have no choice but to stop playing for it to recover nicely. Secondly, if I feel that I am no longer contributing to my team, then it might be time for me to stop playing altogether. As an athlete, I realize the need for being honest with oneself when it comes to longevity. My health and wellness is of utmost important. And if my body and drive are both on the low, then I will have to leave the field and become a spectator.

I will continue as long as I am physically able and as long as I carry the same enthusiasm and passion for the game. I always drive for excellence and maintain highest level of performance each and every game. So when I lose my motivation to prepare and play, then I know it’s time for me to retire.

AFI: Would you recommend it for other Canadians?

Zetazate: If you are given the opportunity to play in Europe, I say you grab it! Although this might mean being away from home and loved ones, the lessons and wonderful experiences along the way will be worth all the sacrifice and hard work.

Needless to say, the adventure of playing football abroad has had a huge impact on the lives of both Schaper-Kotter and Zetazate and as the sport grows around the world, players no longer have to dream of simply taking a vacation in far flung places like Brazil, Japan, Italy or China.

They can simply find a team and turn a vacation into a dream job.

Interested in playing American football in overseas?

Register on Europlayers.com.

Europlayers is the largest online database of American football players, teams and coaches.  It is a connector, bringing together and introducing athletes to overseas teams. On the site you can begin researching teams around the world.  Once you create a profile, you become searchable by hundreds of American football clubs around the world.

Roger Kelly
Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.
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