The journey of Botond Krizsai: From the lowest league in Hungary to Europe’s elite

Hungarian defensive end Botond Krizsai and his Dresden Monarchs’ teammates are packing their bags following a disappointing end to the 2017 season after losing in the German Football League quarterfinals to the Frankfurt Universe.

For Krizsai, who has battled his way from the basement of football in Hungary where he started 10 years ago, to one of the elite teams in Europe, the feeling is bittersweet.

He is coming off a serious ACL injury he suffered in 2016 and had been enjoying maybe his best season ever.

His journey though should be inspiration to all European American football players who dream of playing at the highest level.

While American players dream of making it in the National Football League (NFL) and some do, what about players from Europe?

For some, that dream has become a reality. Players like Germany’s Kasim Edebali (Denver Broncos), Jay Ajayi from the United Kingdom (Miami Dolphins) Albania’s Kristjan Sokoli (New Orleans Saints) and Polish kicker Sebastian Janikowski (Oakland Raiders). These are just a few players who have made it to the NFL from Europe.

This can still be a goal for Krizsai. If not, his skills will give him the opportunity to remain in one of strongest leagues in Europe.

The Zalaegerszeg-born Krizsai joined Zala Predators in 2007 and played his first game in 2008 as an offensive lineman. It changed his life. His first coach was the American born Steven Benefield and he learned the basics from Péter Horváth and György Hajmási. .Krizsai even lives his life according to one of Benefield’s saying: “Do not waste your time, invest it!”

He says that playing in the GFL with the Dresden Monarchs as his greatest success.

László Makranczi: It is very difficult to say anything after suffering a defeat in the GFL playoffs. What is your experience after spending your first full season in the German Football League?

Botond Krizsai.: After returning from a serious ACL injury, I am glad I could play a full season in Europe’s strongest championship. My first game was in front of 8000 people against the Kiel Baltic Hurricanes. It was unbelievable! I cannot tell how much I improved after 16 games. I am grateful to my coaches and teammates who helped me all along. The playoffs did not work out as well as we expected but an outstanding atmosphere awaited us in Frankfurt. I would be satisfied if we had reached the German Bowl, but now I just have to wait another year for that. I want to come back faster and stronger next season. Unfortunately, we are in that part of the year, when we have to bid farewell to our friends, which is the worst in an import players’ life. We live together, we train together, and we motivate each other. We even get our experiences together. Now everyone returns to its ‘normal’ life.

L.M.: It is a rare phenomenon that a Hungarian player gets to play in the German top league. How did you get in touch with the Dresden Monarchs?

B.K.: Good question. In 2014 I started playing for the Bielefeld Bulldogs in GFL 2. The next year, statistically I was the best defensive lineman in the league. Maybe this got the attention of some teams. Nevertheless, I have sent my highlight videos to GFL teams. There were no interests for months. I was a bit nervous but in 2016 January the Dresden Monarchs and the Berlin Adler contacted me on the same day. And now you know which team I chose.

L.M.: Did you have any difficulties settling down when you signed to the Bielefeld Bulldogs?

B.K.: Let me add, that in Bielefeld I did not get a payment. However, they found me a house to live in, a car and etc. They even helped me get a job at a moving company. This was the first time I was far away from my home in another country where I did not speak the language so well. I had to learn to do the laundry or go shopping and so on. I came to Germany with good English, but when I lived together with Americans and English players, I sometimes realized that I still have language difficulties. But I overcame that easily. Fitting in was not that difficult because everybody was helpful. My family was also behind me, and supported me in my decisions.

L.M.: What about the Monarchs?

B.K.: It was as easy as in the Bulldogs. I live together with the other import players, who came here for the same purpose. We can get along quite good. The team also helped us. They have been doing this for 10-15 years so they are experienced.

L.M.: Obviously the GFL is at a higher level compared to Hungary. How do you think this is represented?

B.K.: Last time I played in Hungary was in 2013. Since then football developed in my home country. However, the biggest difference is between the coaches. Here in Dresden, we have 4. For example our D-Line coach is German but for 17 years he coached in the States. The import players also make a big difference. They even help the German players to develop. Not to mention, a game in Germany is a part of a great show. Thousands support their teams in their Stadiums. I remember having 7600 spectators in one of our matches.

L.M.: You got your first sack in the GFL this season. How did that feel?

B.K.: Awesome! Last year, I had an unfortunate injury, I tore my ACL. After returning from that and having my first sack. It is still hard to believe. Not to mention, I got to sack the New Yorker Lions’ quarterback.

L.M.: I wanted to ask you about this torn ACL. It is difficult to come back after a serious injury like this. Was it hard for you to deal with it? Were you afraid that the Monarchs might not want you back?

B.K.: Absolutely not! The team ensured me that they will wait for my return and they were behind me. This gave me strength. I also had to prove that I am capable of performing at a high level after my injury. After tearing my frontal ACL and also having a meniscus injury, the squad and the insurance company helped me in everything. The surgery was in Dresden and I done my rehab in Hungary with professional help. In addition, I saw our stadium from the plane when I traveled home. I promised I would return! And I am here!

L.M.: You have not played on the Hungarian National Team yet. This is still a surprise for me.

B.K.: I do not know too many players from the National Team. As I said, the last time I played in Hungary was in 2013 in the Division II. When the team was established in 2015 I could not travel back home for the training camp and the former coach said I cannot play because I could not participate. Last year I was injured and this year I consulted with the head coach: when the season finishes, we will talk it over. I did not play in Hungary for a long time but it would be an honor if I could return with the red, white and green jersey on me.

László Makranczi is a radio reporter, announcer and American Football journalist in Hungary. He lives in Debrecen and works for the Hungarian American Football Federation. Studied at the University of Debrecen, got a master’s degree in American