It’s never easy uprooting your life and moving to a different country.
For the longest time, I thought that being successful in a place outside of where I grew up didn’t actually count. That sounds ridiculous, I know.
But it’s hard not to fall into mind traps and get caught up in “not making it” where you thought you would, surrounded by your loved ones and the same language you’ve been comfortable speaking your entire life.
Zahradka’s been in Milan for seven years now. He holds an Italian passport and even works a job in the city, all while speaking fluently amongst his teammates and his fiancé, too.
"Being able to speak the language here in Italy, I find myself more relaxed."
He’s a Jets fan, born and raised in Long Island, and while his hopes of playing at a professional level may not have kept him in his hometown, the QB’s dream of competing in the sport he loves brought him to a place he’s embraced with open arms…touchdown style.
“[Milan] is very international,” said Zahradka. “It’s an up-tempo city, lots of nice things to do. You’re never bored as opposed to being in the suburbs or a small town in a random country where maybe you don’t have much to do.
“There’s a lot more outside of football that you can do to keep yourself busy and entertain yourself.”
Zahradka is one of five kids. And even though he’s temporarily said arrivaderci to his family in Long Island and other parts of America, he’s revelling in the Italian life. Which happens to include a delicious amount of pizza.
“Everyone loves pizza."
Of course, I had to ask, New York or Italian?
"You can eat a full mini pie in Italy and still be good to go walk around and have energy, where if you were to have a couple slices in New York, you're gonna feel full and just want to hang out on the couch."
Italy is known for the food and history. Especially Milan, with spectacular views of the Duomo mixed with the art and fashion of the city makes for a truly unforgettable vibe.
Add football to that list, as well. And no, I'm not referring to American football.
Milan's two biggest soccer teams, AC Milan and Inter Milan, draw insane crowds and fans from all over the region. The games are highly entertaining both on-and-off the field, given the atmosphere which includes flares, flags and heaps of curse words in the form of team chants.
So, I wasn't surprised that this past Saturday, June 10th at Seamen Milano's home opener, the ambiance felt just as exciting. From delicious paninis and beer to fans from all over Italy, rockin' the iconic blue and silver, plus a few 49ers faithful, too.
It's the Milano's first year in the European League of Football, although the team itself has been successful in the Italian Football League.
"We've won three championships since my time here," said Zahradka, who was also part of the national team that won the European Championship in 2021.
They didn't get the W on the weekend, but the NYC native says they have something to prove to the league and won't be backing down this season.
"We're playing in the new European League, not just in Italy. But at the end of the day, it's 11 versus 11 on the field. You got to just play your games the best you can. I think everyone plays to win.
"If you don't, then you probably shouldn't be playing."
Zahradka's always known he wanted to play professional football. It's been his dream ever since he was young. And ironically enough, his peewee football coach had a colleague whose son played for the Seamen. That coach is the reason he stumbled across the European scene, actually.
Fast forward to today, and he's living out his aspirations amongst his teammates who have become so much more than just the dudes he shares a locker room with come game day.
"The guys, I've known them for six years now, seven years, so they're more family than they are just teammates."
And that family has grown off the field, too.
Amidst the practices and championship wins, Zahradka found his soulmate. Outside of football, that's the thing he's most proud of.
"My first year we were playing in Vicenza, where the Italian Super Bowl was, and she was working the event. She works for a model agency, so she had to be part of the event and hand out the medals."
After a year of messaging here and there, they hung out and the rest is history. Zahradka proposed to his fiancé, Jessica, in New York and ever since, he's had his person beside him while continuing to live his dream here in Italy.
When the game ended on Saturday, the quarterback didn't sulk over the loss. In fact, he walked over to the fence that lined the field and was greeted by a sweet smile in the form of his future wifey.
Rockin' Zahradka's name and # 7 on her jersey, she embraced him in a warm hug. Football truly is family.
And a tasty slice of pizza, too.
Be sure to tune in this Sunday, June 18th at 12pm CET as the Seamen Milano take on the Stuttgart Surge in the European League of Football!