Poland: Bialystok Lowlanders HC Alex Burdette discusses title game against Wroclaw Panthers

Alex Burdette, the head coach of the Bialystok Lowlanders, is the youngest head coach in the European top leagues and is headed into his very first championship final when his team faces the Wroclaw Panthers in Poland’s Liga Futbolu Amerykańskiego (LFA) title game.

This is a rematch of the 2018 LFA final when Bialystok edged the Panthers 14-13  to win their first ever Polish title.

To reach the final, the Lowlanders topped the North Conference with a 6-2 record and in the semifinal round shocked the Tychy Falcons, beating them 49-19.

This is quite a journey for the 26 year old Burdette, who was the offensive coordinator for the Hildesheim Invaders in the German Football League in 2017.

Burdette has been around coaching his entire life. His father, Robert, won a state title with Nitro High School in West Virginia in 1998 and later was an assistant football coach at Waccamaw for several years.

After graduating from Waccamaw high school, Burdette played football for one year at West Virginia University and two years at Clemson University, before becoming a student assistant under Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris. While at Clemson, Coach Joe Craddock told Burdette about his experiences playing American football in Europe, and that there were also opportunities to coach in Europe.

Burdette created a profile on www.Europlayers.com and wrote about his interest in becoming a coach.

A team in France contacted him about a job, and then Hildesheim offered him the job as their offensive coordinator.

American Football International: You have reached your first championship final as a head coach. Describe how it feels.

Alex Burdette: .The feeling is almost indescribable. The Lowlanders organization took a chance on a young guy with zero head coaching experience and I am thrilled to have been able to help them reach the championship game this season. I have been blessed with a board, staff, and group of players that bought in to the culture we wanted to establish. Without them all buying in, none of this season’s success would have been possible. I will be forever grateful to everyone involved in this organization for not only giving me a shot, but for truly being All In.

AFI: You are facing a team that dominated the league in Poland with the top offense and defense. But your team has steadily improved. How do you prepare your players?

AB: It’s tough to prepare for a team of this caliber. You do your best to identify weaknesses and ways to exploit them, but with this Wroclaw team it’s awfully difficult. They have excellent athletes at every position, and their coaching staff does a phenomenal job of placing them in positions to be successful.

AFI: Since arriving partway through the season, Panthers QB Tony Dawson has been outstanding. How do you contain him?

AB: You can contain him?? I’m beginning to think that’s an impossible task! Tony is an incredible athlete, a true dual threat QB. Just when you think he’s going to run it again and you fly up to fill the gap, he tosses it over your head for a big play. Thankfully our DC, Coach Conroy, is one of the best in Europe and has our defense playing at an extremely high level right now. After starting out 1-2 we have been absolutely lights out on that side of the ball. Zack Blair has been a field general for us, and overall a dream of an import. It’s hard to find guys like Zack. Anything you ask of him, he’s 100% All In. Defensive, special teams, you name it and he’s ready to rock and roll. Truly a team first import and we are lucky to have him. The defensive guys have bought in to Coach Conroy’s system and are always putting in extra work in the film room on their own time, resulting in a high level of success on the field. For this upcoming game it may seem simple, but if we can stick to our assignments and tackle the ball carrier, we will put ourselves in a good position to win.

AFI: Rex Dausin has seemed to find a rhythm with his receivers and your running game is solid now. Do you plan any drastic changes or is it something you can discuss?

AB: With any new system there are going to be kinks and issues early in the season that need to get worked out, even more so with an up-tempo RPO system such as ours. We teach the guys all this new material.. then the next day we ask them to do it really fast. It takes A LOT of time and effort, and the guys have truly dedicated themselves to being great. There are multiple checks and reads to each play call, and having a guy like Rex is absolutely vital. He has been an extension of the coaching staff, and that’s what we need at the QB position. We have team meetings, and then guys like Rex, Tomasz Zubrycki, and Mikolaj Pawalczyk hold extra meetings of their own to review the material with their teammates. The players have gone above and beyond, taking extra time out of their own schedule to ensure we’re all on the same page and that’s the reason we have been able to have success.

AFI: You are facing a veteran head coach in Val Gunn. Does that change the way you game plan?

AB: Coach Gunn and Coach Albano have likely forgotten more football than I know. Plus Coach Gunn is a published author (“A Resonance of Shadows” and “In the Shadow of Swords”), I mean the guy does it all! He and his staff are arguably the best in Europe, and I have no doubt they will have a solid game plan and be fully prepared for us. On our side, we have to stay within ourselves and keep the mental errors to a minimum. It’s a big game, but that doesn’t mean we should scrap the system that got us there and start from scratch. The thing my father has always told me about big games, “Yeah adrenaline and emotions may run high for a quarter, but eventually son it all comes down to blocking and tackling.”

AFI: The Lowlanders are defending champions. Do you feel any added pressure?

AB: It may seem strange but I don’t believe there is any added pressure on our guys. It’s no secret that the Panthers didn’t have their imports last season in the championship game, and our guys are excited for the opportunity to play one of the top teams in Europe at full strength. I always tell our guys before each game, “Look around, We’re surrounded by 50 of our closest friends and get to play our favorite game. What a day!” After week 3 we were 1-2 and everybody had written us off. The guys faced the adversity head on, and now we have the opportunity to play for a championship in one of Europe’s premier sporting venues. Win, lose or draw, we are going to leave no doubt and play Lowlander Football: Fast, Physical, and HAVING FUN! Go Lowlanders, ALL IN!

 

 

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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