Polish Championship Game: Sleepless night leads to big dreams for Bialystok Lowlanders DB Mateusz Dzioban

We’ve all been there.

Laying awake, tossing and turning as we struggle to fall asleep. Debating whether to simply give in to the insomnia and find something to do. Those sleepless nights were all too familiar for a teenage Mateusz Dzioban but growing up in Warsaw, Poland staying up late wasn’t without benefits. As he struggled through another seemingly endless night, Dzioban flipped across something he’d never seen before.

“I always had a problem getting to sleep and I would stay up all night watching TV. One night, I changed the channel and I saw the Super Bowl,” Dzioban explains.

It was the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Green Bay Packers, a fantastic game that immediately peaked the teenager’s interest. A national team level volleyball player who was growing bored in his sport, Dzioban began to research what exactly this American football was. Not long after, a friend of his mother invited him to tryout for the Warsaw Spartans and the rest was history. An athletically gifted kid with a fierce competitive streak, he instantly fell in love with the sport’s atmosphere.

“When I went to my first practice, I met the veteran guys and the coaches put me with the best group. They pushed each other. Everyone as trying to be better and be faster,” Dzioban says. “That’s when I thought this was the sport for me.”

Like most football players, there was another factor that instantly got him addicted.

“And of course, there was also the feeling of the first hit on defense,” he says, grinning broadly. “I still get that same feeling when I think about hitting people.”

Mateusz Dzioban hauling down Wroclaw Panthers QB Bartek Dziedzic

It’s been a decade since that first exposure to the game, but Mateusz Dzioban is just as hooked as he’s ever been. As the starting safety for the Bialystok Lowlanders, he’s relished the new found attention centered on Polish football this year, something he believes is long overdue. Often perceived as a second tier European football nation, Poland is the only show in Europe right now and the product on the field has opened some eyes. When the Lowlanders take on the Wroclaw Panthers in the Polish Bowl on Saturday, the game will have rightfully earned the attention of an international football community starved for games by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every football fan, coach and player in Europe will be watching our game and it’s extra motivation, especially for me because I have a big ego,” Dzioban laughs. “I always want  to prove to everyone that I am the best.”

It will be the culmination of a landmark season for Polish football and the homegrown safety hopes it’s changing the perception around Polish football talent.

“We have a lot of good players but there are still a lot of closed minds that don’t think we are as good as German players, Finnish players or French players,” Dzioban says. “We have guys who can play in the GFL 1, we have guys who could even play in the CFL.”

Dzioban believes the first Polish international star is not far away, they just need an opportunity. For that to happen though, he believes a shift must first occur within Poland.

“As Polish football, we need to change our mindset,” he says. “When young players come to football, they are energetic and they have big dreams about playing internationally but a lot of veteran players tell them they can’t because they are Polish.”

Mateusz Dzioban playing for the Warsaw Sharks

It’s a refrain that Dzioban has heard time and time again but the young defensive back has gone to great lengths to shatter the expectations of a Polish player. Two years ago, on a trip to New York for a family wedding, Dzioban decided to take a chance on himself. An avid follower of former NFL safety Ryan Clark and his DB Precision training videos on social media, he reached out to the trainer and asked if he could make use of an extra week off.

“I wrote to him on Instagram asking if I could come visit his facility so he could teach me some things. I didn’t expect a response, but he said ‘ok, when do you want to come?’, ” Dzioban explains.

That week of high level training was a revelation and Dzioban returned the next year for a full month of work. It was both challenging and eye-opening for a youngster used to the European level of training.

“It was a humbling experience. Now I know what I have to do to go where I want to go. They showed me how much work I have to do, ” Dzioban admits. “I’m two times better as a player and as a person. I’ve improved on and off the field.”

The experience was especially special for Dzioban because of how he started in the sport. Ryan Clark was the Steelers starting safety in that late night Super Bowl that sparked his interest while channel flipping a decade ago and now Dzioban counts him as his most important mentor.

“It’s funny, the first game I ever watched was his game and now he’s my coach and good friend,” he says.

Mateusz Dzioban playing for Polish national team 2017 Photo: Slaweg Foto

Dzioban has sent Clark and his fellow DB Precision trainees links for his games all season and he hopes they’ll tune in Saturday when he takes the field against the Panthers. It’s no secret that Wroclaw has dominated Poland all year long and Dzioban’s Lowlanders will be heavy underdogs against an opponent that handled them easily in the regular season finale. It’s a role that Dzioban is more than comfortable with, comparing the situation to another notable Polish sporting accomplishment.

“It’s like Jan Blachowicz, our UFC champion. He was the underdog and he destroyed his opponent,” Dzioban explains. “I hope we will be Jan Blachowicz in this game and the Panthers will be Dominik Reyes.”

Whatever the outcome, the Polish Bowl will be a must watch event for football fans all across the continent. The kid who only found the sport through a sleepless night now has big dreams for the biggest game of his career.

“I hope all of Europe will be talking about this game for years to come. I want to prove that I am the best safety in not just Poland, but all of Europe,’ Dzioban says, before chuckling a little. “But maybe that’s just my ego talking.”

Watch the Polish Championship Game live. Bialystok Lowlanders v. Wroclaw Panthers, Saturday, November 14, 15:00 CET (09:00 ET)

Check out the matchup.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.