This week’s player in focus is a guy who has been in Germany, Denmark, Finland and back to Denmark where he also played this 2019 season. He has represented the German National u19 team at the World Cup, been a selected to Team World when he was a u19, won the German Bowl with the New Yorker Lions, runner up in Finland and this past season, Niko Lester just won the Mermaid Bowl with the Triangle Razorbacks and won the league MVP. Nike Lester is a highly respected player around the league. Niko plays WR, RB, LB, S, CB, returner – just about everything. He is a full time offensive player, full time defensive player and a full time special teamer. Not many players does that. Niko has taken his time to share his story of his life as a professional American Football player.
First of all, Niko, tell a little about yourself.
I am 28 years old, born and raised in Germany. My dad comes from North Carolina, USA, worked in the Air Force. My mom comes from Germany. I grew up on a military base with my parents and my two sisters. Through my childhood I played different sports. I started in a young age with baseball, soccer, track, basketball, tennis, table tennis, a couple of years with kong-fu and boxing. I was 17 or 18 when I stated playing football. I lige art, music, dancing, fitness, food, different cultures and laguages, fotographing etc.
When did you first realize you wanted to play in different countries? How did you get in touch with different teams?
When I started playing football or in general playing sports, I always wanted to become the best version of myself. Obviously, my dream became to play in the NFL. So, I had to come up with a plan being a player from Europe. So, I started playing in the top leagues in Germany, GFL south and north. And ended up winning the German Bowl with the New Yorker Lions. After that season I signed with Cologne Falcons. Having a first great year with the organization and planning on living there, a financial crash came. This is where my vision of playing this sport and getting noticed in Europe and the USA became clear. And I had to prove myself in other countries. This wasn’t my only objective, it was also to get cultural experiences and to get out of my comfort zone. I heard of Europeplayers.com created a profile and everything else went from there.
What brought your attention to the Horsens Stallions back when you first went to Denmark?
Like I said before with the financial crash with the cologne Falcons, I was kind of fed up with teams and organizations in Germany not investing, honestly and the right way, as I think it should be, playing this sport.
Coming from a small team Kaiserslautern Pikes and always having the underdog mentality, I choose to go to teams to a: be able to help, accomplish their goals and b: just in general help spreading knowledge of the game.
So Dan Jepsen texted me. They were a team coming up from the 1st Division and I felt this was the right team to go to.
What made you come back to Denmark after leaving for a couple of years? I’m sure you had plenty of offers around Europe.
My time in Horsens is unforgettable. I have met so many great people and was embraced by so many families which made me feel home, away from home. So my instincts told me that I will come back to Denmark to play football but also to settle down and live.
Most people who knows a little about football, know that the German Football League is one of the absolute best leagues, if not the best. What made you leave Germany?
What I briefly answered to question 2 and 3 it was more than just football to me. It became more about spreading the love I have for this game and the knowledge of the game to others and at the same time grow as an individual man myself.
PS 😉 I felt that AFVD (American Football Association of Germany) and the responsible people don’t respect the hard work coaches, players, organizations put into this sport. And as you said, it’s the best league with the most budget -> See current German national team participation (European or World Championship)
When you were back in Germany, could you make a living out of football?
No, you can’t make a living playing American football in Europe.
You were with the Stallions in 2015 and came back to Denmark to play for the Razorbacks in 2018. Besides going from being in the bottom of the league going to the top of the league, could you feel any difference in league and the level of the other teams?
Looking at any sport in the world, second division is there for a reason. First division teams are more dedicated focused, goal driven and have the goal to be the best organization/ team they can possibly be
What did a typical week in Germany look like compared to a week in Denmark? Do you feel there is a significant difference in a typical week from being with the Stallions and now the Razorbacks?
In Germany practices range anywhere from two to four times a week. Players in Germany also take it more serious and put in work in the gym on their own time.
To be honest hearing from other teams and coaches I guess every organization and team is dealing with same problems: practice, participation/ motivation, money/ sponsors, attraction. But I would say that the workout ethic is better, but still not where it should be.
Have you had your own place to live or have you been living with other imports during your time in Denmark and Finland?
I have always lived with other imports. Living with other imports is definitely a funny, but also hard experience. Sometimes you just get that one import that turns the whole house upside down, but all in all I always had great experiences with other imports. You learn a lot from each other and about yourself. Some become family and some you bother ever talking to again.
What are the expectations to an import player in Denmark? Not only on the field but as much off the field. Are expectations different here than Finland or even Germany?
In Europe the expectations for every import shouldn’t be as high because most of the imports come from an organized college football team and it’s just a different level here.
Also the cultural differences coming from eg. USA, Mexico and all other countries in the world. You should have the quality to adapt quickly and be able to respect the way of living in the country you are in.
What expectations do you have to an organization you are a part of?
I just want to be a part of a family atmosphere. The board of the organization has to have the best interest in mind of all the people involved around the club. As a team always work on becoming the best version we can possibly be. Everything else will fall in place.
What has been your greatest experience in Denmark so far? On and off the field.
On the field: winning the Mermaid Bowl.
Off the field: Smukfest, J-dag, julefrokost and much more.
Have you been through any tough times during your time in Finland or Denmark? How did you get through it?
Of course I have had rough times playing sports and being away from my family, but it’s bigger than me and I just trained my mind to always to see the positive outcome.
If you could change anything from you time in Denmark, what would it be and why?
Fuck janteloven, specifically in sports. Other than that I love Denmark.
You just finished your season with the Razorbacks. Can we expect to see you in the National League next season?
Razorbacks became my family. Now I will be playing the first half of the year in Spain for the Badalona Dragons and if the Razorbacks want me back of course I will be.
Why should other players go to Denmark and play in the National League?
If you are about spreading the love for the game and helping teams and organizations and Danish football become better, then this is the right place to come to. The Danish football sealing is high and you will definitely leave your mark and be a part of something bigger that just playing