Moscow Spartans football players Omari Grinyaev, Michael Levenshtein and Mercer Island head football coach Ed Slezinger pose for a quick photo prior to the start of Mercer Island’s football practice on Oct. 9. Grinyaev and Levenshtein will be in Washington observing the Islanders football programs practices, meetings, workouts and games through Oct. 22. Shaun Scott/staff photo

Moscow Spartans football players Omari Grinyaev, Michael Levenshtein and Mercer Island head football coach Ed Slezinger pose for a quick photo prior to the start of Mercer Island’s football practice on Oct. 9. Grinyaev and Levenshtein will be in Washington observing the Islanders football programs practices, meetings, workouts and games through Oct. 22. Shaun Scott/staff photo

Islanders football program hosts Russian players

Players from the Moscow Spartans football team make trip to Mercer Island.

Within hours of landing at SeaTac International Airport, two football players from Russia were on the practice field observing the Mercer Island Islanders Tuesday afternoon practice session on Oct. 9.

Moscow Spartans football players Omari Grinyaev and Michael Levenshtein made the trip across the Pacific Ocean to partake in an experience of a lifetime. The dynamic duo will be in the United States through Oct. 22 where they will be fully immersed in observing every aspect of how the Islanders football program is run. Grinyaev and Levenshtein moved from station to station watching each position group on the field.

Mercer Island head football coach Ed Slezinger was thrilled to have the opportunity to share their modes of operation on the gridiron with them.

“It is awesome. We are really excited about it. One of the things I shared with our coaches when we first started talking about this is that we are ambassadors of the sport of football for Russia. We’re giving them some additional exposure to what American football looks like. We’re going through the motions of how we go about training our athletes, how we interact as coaches and how we go about business,” Slezinger said with a smile. “It is great to have that outreach and continue to grow the game outside of the United States. It is really just a great partnership on a global level.”

Grinyaev, who is a 24-year-old safety/linebacker for the Moscow Spartans, was thrilled to be on the practice field watching how the Mercer Island football operates.

“It is beautiful and awesome. We are here because we dream about this level of football in our country,” Grinyaev said.

Grinyaev said the Spartans football program was formed in 2013 and its adult team consists of players between 18 to 43 years of age. The squad has improved immensely since its inception five years ago. This year the Spartans won the Russian championship, finishing with an overall record of 14-1. The Spartans outscored their opponents 500-164 in those 15 contests.

“This year we became champions and were the best team in all of the countries in Russia,” Grinyaev said.

Levenshtein, who is a 28-year-old cornerback, began playing football four years ago and fell in love with the sport. Not only does Levenshtein shut down his side of the field as a cover corner, he also is a trainer for a youth team in Russia.

“We are here to learn new things and gain experience. That is our goal for these two weeks. We don’t see this level of football from the adult teams (in Russia). It is an interesting and exciting experience for us,” Levenshtein said. “It is a good sign that the sport is growing in our country.”

Levenshtein plans on playing football for five more seasons before transitioning into a coaching role.

“I want to do more for football in the country by coaching kids and adults,” he said.

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