American Football International

Poland’s Bialystok Lowlanders sign John Booker as HC

The Bialystok Lowlanders, finalists in Poland’s Liga Futbolu Amerykańskiego, LFA, in 2019, have brought in veteran John Booker as their new head coach and offensive coordinator.

The Lowlanders reached the LFA final in 2019, losing to the Wroclaw Panthers in the title game.

The 33 year old, 6’4″, 280 lb Booker, a native of Hayward, California comes to Poland after coaching Australia’s Brisbane Rhinos to the Queensland championship final in 2019. Since winding up his playing career Booker has enjoyed a successful coaching career, guiding the Koc Rams to the Turkish title in 2018. The Rams also reached the Central European Football League championship final that year as well, losing to Austria’s Swarco Raiders. In 2017, Booker took over the Wasa Royals in Finland’s Maple League and took them to the Finnish title game.  He spent part of the 2017 in Brazil with the Minas Locomotiva helping the club restructure. He began his coaching career in 2016 with the Trnava Bulldogs in Slovakia, guiding them to the Slovakian title that year.

After leaving San Jose State University and after a look by the San Francisco 49ers, he went on to play for the Spokane Shock and Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League (2009-2012) before playing in Europe with the Trnava Bulldogs (2014-15), Koc Rams (2014) and Ufersa Petroleiros (Brazil).

Booker was asked about choosing the Lowlanders and football in Europe.

1.What were the main reasons you chose the Lowlanders? 

Booker: I chose Lowlanders primarily because of the conversations I had with Tomasz Zubrycki initially and then with Piotr Morko. Both managers were open and honest about all aspects of the club. I also had many conversations with RJ Long a former player of Lowlanders and his experience and opinion played a big role in my decision. I did have other offers around Europe and back home in America but I felt Lowlanders was the best fit for me.

2. Where did you grow up? 

 Booker: I grew up in Oakland and Hayward, California. The sports culture there is very competitive. We have had many NFL, NBA, and MLB players come from the Bay Area. There are many hungry athletes that are trying to make it to college or professional to change the economic future of their families. It’s hard to describe but athletes and people from my home are just mentally strong people. I played Baseball and Football mainly. Once I got really big in High school I started playing football and that became my focus.

3. What brought you to Europe and Poland?

Booker: Originally I came to play just to explore and I missed beating people up on the field. I was working 50 hour weeks in America and didn’t have much time to enjoy life. Europe gives me the chance to do what I love, explore beautiful countries and cultures while also getting to do my dream job. You won’t get rich in Europe but there are a lot of rich people who don’t have time to enjoy their money. It’s what works best for me.

4. Tell us something about your playing and coaching career.

 Booker: I played at a great high school for sports, Hayward High school! Farmer Pride! I then received a scholarship to San Jose State University where I was a four year starter and an all academic and all conference player. After my collegiate career I signed as a free agent with the 49ers. I then played four years of Arena football and won 2 championships in those four years. Overseas I played in Brazil, Turkey, and Slovakia (Czech League). In Czech League I was defensive MVP as a LB even though I played my whole career as an Offensive Linemen. That was my last year playing and probably the most fun playing as a 290 LBs Middle linebacker hahaha. Since then I have coached in Slovakia, Finland, Brazil, Turkey, and Australia. I have taken all of my teams to championships but unfortunately have not won them all losing in Australia and Finland.

5. What do you know about Poland?

Booker: I know it’s cold right now! Its 30 degrees here in Australia as I write this and -1 in Bialystok (laugh). I know the people are tough and the league is very physical. The league has grown rapidly the past few years and is now one of the more organized leagues in Europe.

6. What type of player and coach are you? 

Booker: I am a lead by example type of coach. They will see my love for the game and my commitment to them as people first and players second. I never demand of my players what I am not willing to do myself. As a team we will set our goals and discuss what is required to accomplish those goals. Once we have that as the HC it is my job to hold players accountable to meet the standard required by our goals and teach them how to be better when they fall short. If we have a team of hungry guys that want to eat you don’t need a good or bad cop. You just need to push progress and make sure your process is efficient and effective in terms of developing on field production and a positive atmosphere players look forward to being a part of. I understand players are getting out of University and off of work. Coming to practice needs to be a highlight of the day and not another annoying task like work or University.

7. Do you like to add young players to the squad or you are more careful and prefer veterans to keep the result?

 Booker: In a perfect world you can have a blend of both. In Europe teams that have nothing but veterans usually suffer a generation gap when those players retire and have to wait years to build the roster back up. It is critical to have the youth program feeding the seniors team every year. Relying on youth players solely is also difficult just because of the lack of experience and ability to go against full grown men. A blend of both would be great.

8. What motivates you the most in football?

 Booker: Seeing the growth of individual players and teams. Winning a championship with a group that is a tight knit family has to be one of the best feelings you can have in life. Fighting together the whole year to then win everything for each other is truly unique.

9. What is your goal for upcoming season as a Lowlanders head coach?

Booker: My goal is to maximize the ability of the team

10. You are taking over a team that reached the league final in 2019 and won the title in 2018. Do you feel any extra pressure?

Booker: It is great to be a part of a team with great success. The key to repeated success is to always be the hunter and never the hunted.