Stanford grad finding football success in Czech Republic

Luke Wildung (2) lays out to catch a pass during a regular season game against the Prague Lions.

Luke Wildung (2) hurdles over the American safety for the Prague Black Panthers. The Steelers won their first game over the Black Panthers in 20 years 14-13, with Wildung catching the winning touchdown as time expired.                                                                                                                          
Photos courtesy of Karin Tylova

Doreen Heintz
Sports Editor

Stanford High School graduate Luke Wildung (Class of 2008) had always dreamed of playing professional football. He has gotten his wish during the past two years. Last year, and again this year, Wildung is a member of the Steelers – no, not the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the Ostrava Steelers. Ostrava is a city in the northeast of the Czech Republic. It is the third largest city in the Czech Republic and is located just outside of Prague.
So how does a student from Stanford High School in Montana end up playing pro football in Europe? Following graduation from SHS, Wildung played college football at Montana State University-Northern in Havre. He completed his collegiate career at Rocky Mountain College in Billings.
Wildung wanted to continue to play football, but he knew his chances to play here in the United States were very limited. He ended up in Germany, playing for a professional team.
“Europe loves American football,” said Wildung. “It was a great opportunity for me to play in Germany.”
After one year in Germany, his next opportunity took him to the Czech Republic.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to leave Germany, but pro football is a business,” he said. “I got a strong financial incentive to coach and play for the Ostrava Steelers. Unfortunately, the Ostrava team is the ‘Cleveland Browns’ of the Under Armour Bitters League. This is the highest league that is played in the Czech Republic.
“I was very skeptical, but I talked them into letting me be the offensive coordinator for the team, with Garrett Griffith of Golden, Colorado, being the defensive coordinator. We are the only two players in the league who also coach a team.”
The plan worked well for the two American boys. The Steelers ended up leading the league in both offense and defense.
“We averaged about 220 yards on the ground for each game, and an additional 200 yards passing,” Wildung added.
The team was so successful they made it to the Czech Bowl, which according to Wildung is the Super Bowl for the Czech Republic. Although the Steelers lost the game, 28-0, it was a great season for these Steelers.
A total of 1.5 million Czech football fans watched the Czech Bowl on television, while 35,000 fans attended the game.
Wildung explained the football played in Europe is just the same as the NFL.
“We had 65 players on our roster, and we travel with 53 of them,” he said, “just like the NFL. We get two challenges (a coach can challenge two calls made by the officials) during a game. I think the referees are very good.”
Wildung is a wide receiver for the Steelers.
“I am kind of like an H-back or an NFL tight end,” he said. “I sometimes line up outside as a wide receiver, but I can also come out of the backfield to catch a pass.”
The European teams do limit the number of Americans who can play on a team. For example, Wildung said when he played in Germany, there was a limit of four “import player” on a team.
“That is what we are called over there,” Wildung explained.
In the Czech leagues, there can only be two import players on the field at one time.
“We didn’t have too much of a problem with that, as I play offense, while Garrett plays on defense,” said Wildung. “Teams can be fined if they play with too many American players.”

Learning language and culture is important to Wildung
Football is much more than just playing and coaching the game, Wildung added about his experience.
“I want to be a part of the community, so I am learning the language,” he said. “I am getting the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world to be an ambassador for the United States and the state of Montana.”
In addition, Wildung worked part time as a teacher at a private English school in Ostrava.
“I was just recently offered to be the headmaster of the school this year,” he added.
When Wildung arrived in Ostrava, the club had already bought him a house.
“I don’t have any expenses over there,” he added. “Everything is paid for. For example, when I go to a butcher shop for meat, it is already paid for. They even pay for my WiFi.”
Wildung did return to his roots in Stanford this summer. This fall he is an assistant coach for the Bearcats of DGS, but will return to the Czech Republic as soon as the Bearcats’ season is over.
Wildung knows his years as a football player are limited, but he certainly is enjoying this experience. He would like to continue coaching, so who knows where in the world Wildung may end up next.



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