Polish Bowl: Malik Jackson preparing Krakow Kings for first ever championship game

Malik Jackson is in his first year as head coach of the Krakow Kings in the Polish Football League, and after leading them to an unbeaten record in the regular season, now has the Kings on the verge of winning it all for the first time ever.

A veteran of football in Europe, the 48-year-old Jackson is no stranger to championship games.  In 2015, he was the head coach of the Carlstad Crusaders who won both the Swedish league title and the European Champions League crown. Before joining the Kings in 2020 (season was cancelled) Jackson spent the 2019 a head coach for the Hamburg Pioneers in Germany’s Division 3. In 2018, he served as head coach of the SBB Vukovi Belgrade in Serbia’s top league, guiding Vukovi to the Serbian Bowl where they lost to the Kragujevac Wild Boars. He coached with the Hamburg Huskies in the GFL for the final six games of the 2018 season.

AFI spoke with Jackson about the upcoming title game and the past season.

AFI: This is your second season with the Kings and first trip to the Polish Bowl. How does that feel?

Jackson: Everyone feels good because we are still playing. This is a new experience for us in the top league so it’s still exciting to show up to practice. I came to the Krakow in January of 2020 and we didn’t play the Covid season, but the core of the team stuck together and being in the Polish Bowl really says a lot about their commitment to each other during that time. I’m obviously proud of them.

AFI: How could you compare the 2021 team with the current one? What was your biggest challenge till now?

Jackson: In 2021 we were a mostly Polish team, and we gained a lot of respect for how competitive we played. That led to a very good offseason where we added almost 15 new players. THAT was the biggest challenge early on, but we also went from a scrappy 2-4 team to the preseason favorite almost overnight and I wasn’t sure how we would handle that. Luckily, we have some guys with this kind of experience, but a majority of the team doesn’t and that showed up in the semi-final against the Mets. It’s not easy to have to play your best football every week because you are getting everyone’s best effort, and you don’t learn it overnight.

AFI: Who was the biggest surprise on the team this year (player, coach)?

Jackson: Not many big surprises. The one that has meant the most is the impact our kicker Marcin Masło has had, not only with field goals, but his kick offs (and the kickoff team) have been a huge part of our success this year because of field position. We’ve been lucky enough to kick off a lot this year and he puts a lot of those kicks into the end zone and that whole team has made a noticeable difference from 2021 to this season.

AFI: Are you satisfied with how the team performed this year or maybe there is something you would like to change?

Jackson: We still make strangely stupid mistakes during games, but I love this team and I wouldn’t change anything at all. They are good guys and they’ve had to be selfless and inclusive in order for this to work, and that part they have made look easy so far.

AFI: You have led the Kings to an unbeaten season so far after going 2-4 in 2021. What was the difference?

Jackson: Being able to add two American imports has been the biggest difference by far. We were a pretty competitive 2-4 team with a mostly Polish team in 2021, but this season we hit the import lottery with Matt Barrett and Jake Schimenz. They have literally been everything you could ask for out of an import on and off the field. Jake brought us instant credibility in Poland because he won last year with the Archers, and with him came a few of his former teammates, and that’s been a great help. Matt is a beast in the middle of our defense. He was a 3-year starter at middle linebacker in college and so he got comfortable quickly and makes the core of our defense very solid.

The Kings will face the Bialystok Lowlanders, Saturday, July 23 at 16:00 CET (4 pm, 10 am ET). Watch it live on American Football International.

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