Interview: Ladislav Jenšik - 'Do Extra!'

Photo: Ben Gierig Fotografie
Ladislav Jenšik is one of those guys who have been around since football was just in developing stages across Europe. He is one of those guys who knew they needed to practice, and then practice some more in order to get better, and earn their place on the roster. He's one of the first generations of domestic players becoming imports. Should we add more, or you're ready for his story?

BEGINNINGS

I was always a sports guy. I played tennis, did martial arts. It was right after the communism age in Czech Republic, I was the first or second generation of kids to grow up after communism, but still be able to see the impact it made. Someone who I call an uncle was one of the first hockey players in the NHL who went over the block. Once he came back after the communism era was over, I was at his house, and saw this one picture... Signed... It was Joe Montana! I didn't know who is the guy, I didn't know why he had that helmet. But it got me intrigued. I was maybe 5-6 years old at the time.

At the age of 14, I saw tryouts were being held for American football! I was so tired of tennis and other typical European sports, I knew I will not be playing at Wimbledon.

Every sport I did – I was great at it. But now, I wasn't able to do anything! I didn't understand the rules, what am I supposed to do on the field... I was just a body wearing a pad and a helmet. Basically, I was like a dummy we use at practice. And the juniors team I was a part of was one of the best programs in Europe at the time – these kids played against Vienna Vikings and so on. This was back in 2000.

Up until 2009, it was more me trying to play football. The game itself was fun for me, and I've had been encouraged by others to keep it going.

NFL EUROPE

One day, phone rang, and it was David Drane of NFL Europe calling me and telling me that he wants to see me in 2 days in Spain! I didn't do so well at the combines. With the juniors team – we played in championships, and compared to other players, I wasn't bad. But, now in NFL Europe – they had all the top guys at camp and combines.

There were a lot of guys from Berlin, Kiel, Braunschweig etc. And then there was me.
Returning home from the combine was a kick. It made me want to get better.

BECOMING AN IMPORT

In 2009, after the NFL Europe combine, I spoke to my coach who is now coaching in Graz. (Martin Kocian). I told him I feel that I can't get better in Czech Republic, and that I'd like to go outside the country and play.

I signed with Berlin Adler. Unfortunately, there was one problem – I wouldn't be getting payed. They signed me as a back up guy basically. Since it was my dream to play for one of the best teams in Europe – of course I agreed. I was even traveling almost every week for 5 hours by car, straight to practice. Every practice was a physical and mental challenge.

We had 90 players showing up at practice. I became the starting kick returner and backup at CB (we had like 10 back ups for all positions). That year we won the national championship. It was really emotional for me. We had the best players, best coaches.. That was actually when Coach Shuan Fatah was the HC.

Adler invited me back in 2010. We won the Eurobowl, and unfortunately lost in the German Bowl. After that season coaches left for Innsbruck, and I went back to Prague.

After playing a season with the Prague Panthers, I signed with Dresden Monarchs. I'd travel for each practice for 2 hours. I was already used to long drives, since I would drive between Berlin and Prague for 2 years.

We lost in the semi-finals vs Kiel, and next year, in 2013, we managed to get 2 guys from Kiel – their QB ( Jeff Welsh) and RB (Trevaar Deed). It was my best season ever. First time for Dresden to play in the German Bowl! I was the starting CB, and I'd play safety when needed. Sebastian Sejean was playing that year as well. At that Bowl, our RB fumbled the ball couple seconds before the game ended! We lost, however the team we had that year was amazing. We were as family. We called our defense a 6 nation defense.

THERE IS NO “I” IN TEAM

Unfortunately, the more imports teams bring, the more team spirit is being affected.

When you win, everyone is a part of the team. But when you're losing – that is the most important part. Guys can't turn their backs on each other when the team is losing. They need to want to come back.

During my first two years with Dresden, we would get beat a lot. If you have a team full of imports, they will not care as much when it comes to a loss. They will go to another team next year.

There is no recipe how to make a team, but you have to taste IT in the air. Teammates can fight against each other, but at the same time they know when to come together and fight someone on the field.

I spent a few years in the GFL, and I consider Berlin and Dresden my home teams, because I spent more time playing there than in my own hometown – Prague.

PRAGUE

We played in the Austrian league and in the Czech league. We would have 2 games in 2 days. We lost a lot of players due to injuries. I didn't miss any games, we had 3 weeks of 2 games per one week.

In 2016, league implemented a ,,gentleman” rule for-against us?! We couldn't have any imports playing in the domestic league, while others could. In Championship we had no American guys on the field, while Prague Lions had 2 on each side.

The championship was an interesting game. It was a Hail Mary pass. Ball flew over my head, I thought it's ok, no one will catch it, and our guy behind me caught it! He started yelling “I got it! I got it!”, runs to the endzone and the final score was 10:9, for us! You can find video on NFL site or Youtube they call it momentum rule. However there was no video room how to check if it was the safety. At the time no one knew if it was a safety or not. We received a lot of heat for it, people were saying we should give the championship to the Lions.

Now, when I look back, Lions had 4 imports, and we had none. We put so much effort in that season.

INJURIES

I wanted to give up 3 times during my career. Third time when I wanted to give up football, reality knocked on my door - I could lose my job and so on... But then it hit me, if I didn't give up for the first two times, why should I now!

The feeling of running through the tunnel on the field, before each game, was almost the same feeling like playing in the German Bowl. However, after winning the Eurobowl and German Bowl, I decided I don't want to spend any more time in the car. It was the time to build my job career.

FOOTBALL OVER THE YEARS

Football is really about financial resources. However, football is becoming more and more professional - GFL for example. There's not a lot of money for the players, staff, coaches, field etc. So everything is about conditions to life.

When I was just starting, 17 years ago, football was just starting to grow in Czech Republic. Team was closer together. It was all about growing together. Everyone was more excited about the game.

If you, as a domestic player can grow and switch teams/countries – definitely go for it! It can help you grow and it can change your life in all directions.


DOMESTIC TALENT

Young talented guys from Europe have a dream of playing in the NFL or college football. But at the same time, we need to keep our legs on the ground. There are teams in Europe where you can get a great treatment. Coaches from NFL Europe would always tell me “Do extra”. And I would do that. Now, I can say I did have success.

Guys shouldn't be scared of traveling! They think they will miss out on something. Don't be afraid to go for what you like.

Keep practicing! Improve your technique. Watch yourself play on film.

There are a lot of things all year around that can stop you from achieving your goals. Starting with the gym. Pick the right exercises. I always see guys come to the gym doing bodybuilder stuff. It won't help you to be the best football player. Keeping your mind on bigger biceps will never help you out on the field. Be focused on being a football player, not crossfitter or physique!!!

You have to start somewhere. Even in life outside of football – I started as a personal trainer and now I'm working with some of the most known athletes – I'm even prepping some for the NHL.

Football gives you a lot, and don't be scared to give back.
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