Moving from Japan to Italy – LB Derrick Bryant signs with Parma Panthers

One of the top teams in Italy, the Parma Panthers, have signed linebacker Derrick Bryant  (University Of Indianapolis Greyhounds, 2013—2016) who played for the Lixil Deers in Japan’s XLeague in 2018.

The 5’11”, 220 lb Bryant from South Holland, Illinois, spent the 2018 season playing linebacker for the Deers following an outstanding career at Indianapolis. In his senior season, he recorded 121 tackles  and was named 1st Team All GVLC (Great Lakes Valley Conference) and voted Outstanding Linebacker of the Year. For his career he had 313 tackles and remains the only Greyhounds player ever to be named Great Lakes Valley Conference Freshman of the Year as well as the team’s Defensive Freshman of the Year (2013).

American Football International asked Derrick about life playing football in Japan and the transition to Europe.

AFI: Why did you sign to play in Italy after a year in Japan?

Bryant: When I got back to America the head coach from Parma (Andrew Papoccia) reached out and I liked what he had to say. Him being from Illinois made my decision a lot easier since I’m from there as well. Going from one country to another can be a lot but when you have someone who’s from the same place as you its makes things more comfortable because you have that common ground. I’m excited to be joining the Panther family and getting a chance to explore Italy.

AFI: How did you find out about playing in Japan and then in Europe?

Bryant: My journey to Japan is different from most. What a lot of people don’t know is that I went to Japan with the intentions of only being an English teacher, football wasn’t on my mind. I was applying to different teaching companies and came across a company called Freecom English School. I applied, and did 3 interviews with the company. During one of the interviews, the CEO (Roy Cameron) asked if I was interested in playing again and of course I said yes. So that’s how I got to Japan and joined the Deers and I’m grateful to have come across a company like Freecom because without that opportunity I wouldn’t be heading to Italy. Now getting to Europe was a little easier. I made a profile on “” where you upload your information such as photos, videos, etc. It’s a nice platform for coaches and players looking to continue their careers.

AFI:  How much of a cultural change did you experience in Japan?

Bryant: To this day moving to Japan was probably the biggest challenge I had to face. I was teaching full time and playing football so I was fully immersed in the Japanese culture. I was the only foreigner on the team and I didn’t speak the language which made communication tough at times. Along with communication food was also something I struggled with. I went to Japan as a Vegetarian and man did that change fast; The first day I got there to be exact. I realized that I was going to always be hungry if I stayed on the vegetarian path. These were two things I struggled with the most but the team made sure I was comfortable and helped me out when I needed it.

Photo: Inside Sport Japan

AFI: What was the level of play in Japan?

Bryant: I’m going to be honest and I told my team this before. When you think of Japan you don’t associate it with American football. You think of cars, technology, fashion, sushi, etc. So, I thought football was easy and I learned fast that it was the complete opposite. I gained a lot of respect for football in Japan. A lot of my teammates were traveling 3-5 hours every weekend for practice and games which is unheard of in America. Overall the Japanese X League has a lot of talent and there’s plenty of opportunity to compete at a high level.

AFI: The Lixil Deers went through a tough year in 2018. Did that have any bearing on your decision?

Bryant: Not at all. It was one of those seasons where a lot games could of went either way, and unfortunately things didn’t fall in our favor much. I’m grateful for my time with Lixil but teaching full time and playing football was a little too much for me.

AFI: How much do you know about the Parma Panthers?

Bryant: The Panthers are a championship program, winning the IFL title 4 times. They’ve been around for almost 40 years now and I’m looking forward to adding to the history there.

AFI: Have you read the book Playing for Pizza?

Bryant: I haven’t read it yet but It’s a book that’s on my “to read list”. I heard a lot of great things about it.

AFI: While you were in Japan, what was your go-to meal?

Bryant: If it was something quick and fast it was Pork Ramen but if I had a little more time I preferred Okonomiyaki (Also known as a Japanese Pancake). It’s hard to describe but it was probably one of the best things I’ve tasted while there.

AFI: What do you bring to the team?

Bryant: I bring leadership, hard work, and hopefully I can help contribute to another IFL championship.

Derrick has some advice for anyone considering playing overseas:

“If you’re contemplating rather or not to go to a different country to play the game you love I say do it! I was once in your shoes confused, nervous and a bunch of other emotions but I’m glad I took that leap because I learned and saw so much that it changed my life forever. Yes, you’re going to have to remove your ego, you’re going to be uncomfortable and you won’t make as much as the NFL but the experience itself is priceless. Go to “” make a profile and start applying.”

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