Panthers Wrocław made many interesting moves on the transfer market before the upcoming season. One of the newest reinforcements of the Wrocław team is Jakub Ałdaś - a soccer player who has played in the first polish soccer league. How did a lifelong soccer man end up in an American football club? What are his impressions after the first training sessions with Panthers Wrocław? And was it hard for him to "move over"?
Filip Skalski: Would you ever think that you would play American football?
Jakub Ałdaś: I never even thought about it in my life - until I took part in the Kicking Derby organized by Panthers Wrocław and DZPN (Lower Silesia Soccer Association), an event in which the Wrocław club was looking for a player for the position of a kicker. Throughout my life, soccer has been my greatest passion - I have been interested in it since I was a child, I collected soccer stars' shirts and I wanted to become a soccer player myself. So I could never have expected it - it still feels like a dream.
And before you took part in the Kicking Derby, did you hear about Panthers Wrocław and that American football is also played in Poland?
Yes, I was at one Panthers game last season. I came across a meeting with the Berlin Thunder, during which I saw with my own eyes what the atmosphere is here, how the fans behave and what football players look like in action. I fell in love with all this, and maybe that's when a light bulb went off somewhere that it would be interesting to try it as well.
How was your soccer career?
I have been playing soccer since the age of three - I started at the UKS Głogów soccer school. Later, at the age of 14, I joined Chrobry Głogów, where I managed to get through the youth levels to the first team, with which I first made my debut in the second league, and then - after winning promotion - in the first league, i.e. at the back of Ekstraklasa.
Later, I moved to Piast Żmigród, playing in the third league. Then I decided that I would rather not be a professional soccer player anymore, so I went to Germany for work, where I also played in a club. When I came back, I played for a few more years in the district – in Płomień Radwanice and Orla Wąsosz. My last club is a team from B-Class, i.e. the lowest league in Poland - GLKS Gaworzyce, where I went to play for "fun", because many of my friends played there.
How did you find out that Panthers Wrocław are looking for a kicker?
One of my friends showed me an advertisement that the Panthers together with DZPN are organizing a Kicking Derby and are looking for a kicker. He said something like "Damn, Kuba, try it - you have a hard hit, you have accuracy, it may be a gateway to something new." So I filled out the form and went to the event.
How was the place? Was it difficult to switch from soccer player to football player?
It was a strange day, it was after a night shift - I did not sleep for more than 24 hours, because I work in the mine as a miner. Everything was well organized on site, the kicker of Panthers Wrocław - Konrad Stępień was with us, who explained to us what the technique of kicking in American football is. It was hard at first because if you are a soccer player you hit the ball in a completely different way. First we had practice kicks - we had to adapt, but it got better and better over time. I was satisfied with the results.
How far can you kick the ball?
Kickoff kick over 70 yards. My field goal record is currently 50 yards, and I've already made significant progress on that field. My personal goal is a 66-yard kick, which is the NFL record. I will try to get close to that distance.
How did your fellow soccer players react to the news that you will join an American football club and on a European level?
At first, my soccer friends looked at it a bit mockingly. They didn't know who Panthers Wrocław were, what stadium they played in, what league they played in, or what it all looked like. In general, however, they were very surprised that after playing soccer all my life, I suddenly changed my discipline and joined a team that plays in the best league in Europe. So now they are super impressed. And those doubters to whom I told that someday they will be able to see me on TV, maybe I will also manage to rub their noses a bit.
So joining a team that plays with teams from the largest European cities is an interesting springboard from lower soccer levels, and even the first league?
Definitely. Everyone watches the Champions League where Barcelona go to Milan or Bayern Munich play PSG in Paris. The best clubs from different countries play against each other and it can be said that the European League of Football, in which Panthers Wrocław play, is the equivalent of the soccer Champions League. To get here, you have to be in an elite group - just like in the Champions League.
You've had your first team training sessions behind you. What are your impressions from the field?
When I arrived at my first camp, I was very impressed with everything about the place. There are about 50 players in the dressing room - this has never been the case in soccer, not even during testing. The professionalism of the board and coaching staff is at the highest level. From coaches to physical therapists, they all want the best for you. I was very surprised how everything is organized - here every training is planned down to the minute. After the first day I felt uplifted, the guys made contact with me when they saw me in action on the field. On the last day we had a kickers competition which I managed to win. The biggest surprise for me was how my teammates reacted to it - someone ran up behind me and lifted me up, the rest of the guys slapped me on the back and on the helmet, high fives with me - both players and coaches. I haven't felt such an atmosphere anywhere in a long time.
How are Panthers Wrocław organizationally compared to what you have experienced during your soccer career - e.g. in the backroom of Ekstraklasa?
Even in the first league there was no such thing that the organization has three physiotherapists at its disposal. In some football clubs, there is not even a coach of motor preparation. Of course it all changes, but when I played there - it was 10 years ago. So the organization of the club surprised me a lot because I have never felt anything like it – even at a professional level in soccer. Panthers Wrocław stand on a really high ceiling, the Olympic Stadium and the entire training base of the club also makes a great impression.
Do you see your future as an American football player?
I treat it as an adventure of a lifetime - I want to play American football as long as possible and at the highest level. For now, everything is going great - I won the Kicking Derby, took part in the camp, the coaches liked it, I signed a contract with Panthers Wrocław. And the future? Why not go play overseas - you have to have dreams and a goal to pursue. In my first season, I want to get close to the league records - 60 yards is my personal goal, as well as the highest possible kick ratio. I would like to be the leading figure in the league when it comes to the kicker position. I know that I have a lot of work and training ahead of me, but I have people who support me - both at the club and among my loved ones. The team goal, of course, is the championship – as coach Dave Christensen always emphasizes. We fight to be the best in Europe.