Sagamihara, Kanagawa Pref. – Former UNLV quarterback Kurt Palandech flew over to Japan in February to try out for the Nojima Sagamihara Rise, a trip that led to a contract with the X League Club.
Then came the hard part — a monthslong delay in joining the team due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After finally arriving in Japan last month, Palandech was unable to suit up in time for Sagamihara’s season opener on Oct. 24, in which they fell 48-3 to the four-time defending champion Fujitsu Frontiers.
Speaking to The Japan Times following a training session at Nojima Football Park, the team’s training facility, Palandech described his frustration at having to wait out travel restrictions as well as a two-week quarantine that kept him off the field until late October.
“You prepare and you are getting excited for the upcoming season, (and then) due to those circumstances, you can only do things by yourself trying to keep up with the team,” the 26-year-old said. “But you obviously wish you were out there with your teammates getting reps and just building the chemistry before the first game.”
After college, Palandech played for the Cedar Rapids River Kings of the Indoor Football League before moving to Germany to compete for the German Football League’s Berlin Rebels last year. He was eventually connected to the X League by fellow UNLV alum Tim Goins, a former coach and director for the Panasonic Impulse.
“Once I started internationally in the GFL, I became aware of the X League,” said Palandech, who worked part-time as a substitute high school teacher and FedEx driver between his time in Germany and Japan. “I saw the quality of football and I really wanted to be a part of it. I’m very fortunate that Sagamihara Rise gave me the opportunity and I’m grateful because it’s a great league and great team.”
Despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, which has forced the semi-pro circuit to shorten its 2020 season, Palandech has relished the opportunity to continue playing football overseas and experience daily life in a new country and culture.
“I’d rather play two games than none,” Palandech said when asked if he’d thought of not playing at all this year. “I just wanted to contribute to the team and I was waiting since March to get out there, so I was just excited. I wouldn’t say I’m upset. I’m just grateful that I had a chance to play here. You can get mad with the coronavirus situation, but I think it’s better not to.
“I wish I could play the whole season but (I’ll) get two games and we’ll see where the team goes from there. I’m glad I made it over here. It was definitely a tough process (with the) visa … but it’s well worth being here with the team.”
Nojima’s new quarterback made his X League debut on Nov. 8 against the Elecom Kobe Finies. Despite throwing three interceptions, Palandech threw a crucial touchdown pass with less than two minutes left and guided the team to a 17-14 win. He admitted that he had not had enough time to improve his coordination with his teammates, adding that it was “no excuse” and that he has “got to be more protective with the ball as a quarterback.”
But Rise head coach Ichiro Jogataki praised his signal-caller, who also ran for 63 yards in the game, for having memorized his team’s offensive plays while he was stuck in the United States and integrating into the squad so quickly.
“Because of the lockdown period and all that, we were concerned that his physical condition might not be ready and it would take him a little time to get used to his new team,” Jogataki said. “But he’s a serious guy and tried to fit into the team as much as he could, so we quickly realized we could let him play.”
One of Palandech’s signature performances came on Nov. 12, 2016, in his first start of the season for UNLV at home against Wyoming.
In that game, Palandech outdueled future Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, throwing for 252 yards with three TDs and rushing for 157 yards with another TD in a 69-66 triple-overtime shootout victory.
“It was a fun game and it was a great team win, three overtimes, high scoring,” Palandech recalled. “Definitely a fun game to be part of.”
Jogataki hopes to see another standout effort from Palanech in the team’s probable final game of the season against the IBM BigBlue on Monday in Kawasaki.
“Hopefully, he’ll throw as much as he can and run as much as he can,” Jogataki said of his high expectations for Palandech. “It’ll likely be our last game of this season and we want him to perform as much as he likes.”
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