Interview: Justin Mc Kenzie - More Than Just An Avg QB

Instead of doing a regular introduction on Justin Mc Kenzie, QB, - let's first list his accomplishments and teams he was a part of around the world.

College Experience: University of Redlands, Southwestern Community College
Pro Experience: Wyoming Calvalry (Arena/Indoor), Big Sky Thunder (Arena/Indoor), San Diego Shockwave (Arena/Indoor)
International Experience: Aquile Ferrara (Italy), Kirchdorf Wildcats (Germany) Corinthian Black Lions (Austria), Panama Warriors (Panama), Porvoo Butchers (Finland), Coventry Jets (England), North Harbour Pride (New Zealand), St. Polten Invaders (Austria), Duo Sports Thundercats (International Travel Team), Panama Raiders (Panama), Surge (New Zealand), Guerreros Iztapalapa (Mexico), Zurich Renegades (Switzerland), Panama Raptors (Panama)

Accomplishments: 
2003 Undefeated Italian Silver Bowl Champions Aquile Ferrara
2004 GFL 2 South Vice Champions Kirchdorf Wildcats
2005 GFL 2 South Huddle Magazine #1 Ranking
2007 BAFL Premier Vice Champions Coventry Jets
2007 EFAF Eurobowl Porvoo Butchers 2-1 Record
2009 Austrian Silver Bowl Champions St. Polten Invaders
2009 Sussex Thunder Bowl Champions Duo Sports Thundercats
2009 Steeledome Gladiators New Zealand 8 Man Tournament Vice Champions Surge
2010 San Diego Tri-City Cup Tournament Champions Duo Sports Thundercats
2011 Mexicali Rose Bowl Champions Duo Sports Thundercats
2011 Long Beach Invitational Arena Tournament Champions Duo Sports Thundercats
2012 Great West Football League Vice Champions Duo Sports Thundercats
2013 Super 8 Arena Football Champions Duo Sports Thundercats

The most memorable experience

There are so many because I've played so many different places and with so many different players and teams, but the most memorable moment was in 2004 defeating the Munich Cowboys 17-14 on a last second field goal in the rain as a member of the Kirchdorf Wildcats. It stands out more than the championship games because it was a rivalry in which the Wildcats had never won and my best friend and former import player Will Blocker was on that team as well as my Austrian brother and former Austrian national team RB Mario Nerad. To this very day most of those guys are still my closest friends, that was a huge win in Wildcat history and a big memory for me as it was a launching pad to a 10 plus year career.

Playing and coaching around the world vs "Normal" life
Well if you mean a 9 to 5 job and regular home life as normal then it's nearly impossible due to the fact that you relocate every year and in my case of playing 2 or 3 seasons a year it's even more difficult, but after 11 years I suppose that now it's normal to me. There really isn't much adjustment time anymore simply because I've grown used to the constant change, but in the beginning it always took a couple of weeks to get settled in but even then I grew up on the US/Mexican border so I've always been able to adjust to language differences and cultural differences fairly rapidly, and considering I speak Spanish, German, and a bit of Italian I usually don't run into too much trouble I can't figure out how to get out of, lol.

Team search

I look for a team by need first and by my fit with the team second. For example I'm a QB but if the team is going to run a double wing or triple option offense where I'm going to hand off and run the ball all game it won't fit my style of play, I'm a spread read option type of guy but have played in pro, I formation, and variations of the west coast offense almost my whole life prior to the recent explosion of spread offenses around the world. 

Photo: Goodshots.ch
If the team has a need I fit and has a system that fits me then we are a match. How to make sure a team is legit is another story. I once left a solid team I was with for 2 years to join another team that was offering more money and promises of big things, well to make a long story short none of it came true they fired the coaches, the local players didn't practice and didn't train, and they would have released me as well but I worked a deal out to get signed by another team and asked for my release before they got to release me, it pays to have connections. 

So to ensure the team is legit, talk to the management as much as possible if they are truly interested in you as a player or coach they will want to share some inner workings of the team to help you feel welcome long before you arrive. Also ask to talk to previous imports if there are any, in a case where you are the first import ask questions about how they plan to move forward in the future and what do they have in mind to keep importing players, this way you will have a little insight on how they view imports as a whole and if it's worth your time to go. 

The last thing is do your research, watch film on youtube or hudl, go to the league and team websites, find out everything you can. I've never once gone to the pages of the Braunschweig Lions or Vienna Vikings and not found every bit of information on the past and upcoming seasons, good teams and good organizations promote themselves because they have nothing to hide, bad teams and sloppy organizations go long periods of time between updating their site to give the appearance of things going well but if the last update was 2012 and it's 2014 that's a red flag, we live in the internet age all the info on teams should be available. 

When I first went to Italy in 2003 the Aquile Ferrara site was pretty solid for an Italian team 11 years ago I had no issues finding the team's history, results, etc, and the coaches and staff e-mailed and called on a regular basis, this was before Europlayers was big and all the sites we have now so they went out of their way to make me feel welcomed long before I started playing for pizza.

Domestic players - Dedication vs Sloppiness 

These are some tricky questions but I'll give you the best answers I can. In my experience Germany is the country where players are most dedicated to the sport with Austria being a close second if not equal, I only give Germany an edge because 1 of the 2 Austrian teams I played for was a team that didn't have much dedication. 

The reason I say the German players are most dedicated is simple look at the league, there are 6 divisions of German football, Germany is the only European nation to medal at the IFAF World Championships (bronze) and has a strong grip on the European  championships. German teams play the longest and toughest season in Europe with approximately 12-14 regular season games in addition to pre-season/friendship games, play offs and in some cases tournaments. All of that while maintaining 2-3 practices a week, weight training, team gets together, meetings and most importantly developing junior and youth programs. 

As far as the place where players just don't care, it's hard to say simply because to play football especially in Europe you have to have a passion to play but from my experience I would say Switzerland, not because the players don't want to play or don't care but the league structure doesn't really give them much incentive to play, in Germany or Austria where there is a constant fight for the championships, the Calanda Broncos recent run in Switzerland has kind of led all the rest of the Swiss teams to lay down and fight for second place.

It reminds me of the Bergamo Lions dynasty throughout the 2000's in Italy where they won 10 or 11 championships out of 9 or 10 years and that's not good for the morale of the Swiss players who honestly believe Calanda is more German or Austrian than Swiss.

The most common mistakes

Domestic players vary in skill level greatly from players who could play at the college level in The States to guys who couldn't play junior varsity football, but it's all dependent upon their experience level. 

I'd say the most common mistakes they make are technical mistakes usually related to footwork or fundamentals simply because it's new for them, but in that same breath I've seen domestic players who are much better than imports so it's really relative to the individual.

2014.

I'm currently playing in Panama for the Raptors of the Panama Major Football League and our season starts on Sunday. In Europe I'm thinking of running another Thundercats game some time in July or August or possibly starting and arena football tournament in Spain, but we'll see I have a lot of football projects going on including my arena league which now operates in California, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama.

Mia Bajin
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