By Katie McFadden
Rockaway could have its next NFL star. Arverne resident Christian Izien has declared for the 2023 National Football League draft and by next week, he’ll find out if he’ll reach his dream of playing with the pros.
The NFL draft will take place from Thursday, April 27 through Saturday, April 29, and 22-year-old Izien will be in Rockaway, watching along with those who’ve supported him throughout his football career, to find out if he’s among the 2023 picks for one of the NFL’s 32 football teams. Izien says he’s “feeling optimistic” about getting drafted.
After all, the lifelong Rockaway resident has spent his young life working up to this moment. The defensive back started playing at just six years old. While attending Peninsula Preparatory Academy, he joined the Rosedale Jets football team based in Jamaica, Queens. He then followed football through high school, even transferring to different schools that would give him the best opportunities in his football career. That meant starting out at St. Francis Prep. In his sophomore year, he transferred to Pope John XXIII Regional High School, located in Sparta, New Jersey, and lived with a host family in the area. “Prep was a great school with academics, and I was taking steps to learn high school football and become a better player and once I reached that at Prep, I realized the best opportunity for me was to expand my network as far as being a recruit for college. I transferred to Jersey because I felt I could do that better there,” he said. But Izien was missing home. “It was too far from home, and I wanted to be around my family,” he said. So in his senior year, he transferred to Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn. “Erasmus was known for producing Division I athletes and had connections to colleges, so it was a win-win for me,” Izien said.
That final move in high school, along with his undeniable skills on the field, led him to being recruited by top football colleges, including Syracuse, the University of Connecticut, Purdue and Rutgers in New Jersey, where he ultimately went on a full scholarship. “It was everything I needed as far as the academics, the campus and football go. They’re the best in the East Division of the Big Ten Conference,” he said.
In his freshman year as a Scarlet Knight, Izien only played in four games for the season, but his coaches saw his potential. “As a freshman, I wasn’t playing as much as I thought I should, but I had to wait my turn and learn what I could. In my second year, I came in and played in all twelve games and I was learning the game more and becoming a more complete football player. My career progressed in my four and a half years at Rutgers. It was great.” In his senior season, Izien started in all twelve games, totaling 84 tackles, five tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. During his time at Rutgers, Izien received All Big Ten recognition for three years straight.
Due to Covid interrupting play time, Izien was eligible to play another year for Rutgers, but he had other plans. In November, Izien declared for the 2023 NFL draft. “I forfeited my last year to pursue my career for the NFL draft,” he said. “Since I’ve been young, I’ve wanted to play for the NFL.” And he’s been preparing for the moment ever since.
Izien has been training in Tampa and last month, had a successful Pro Day. At Pro Day, scouts from all 32 NFL teams come out to watch prospects put their skills to the test. Izien had an impressive performance, including running the 40-yard in 4.41 seconds, the fastest time of the day, plus he did 20 reps on the bench press and had a vertical jump of 41.5 inches. “It was a really good showing for me,” Izien said. His performance at Pro Day and his career at Rutgers make him a desirable prospect for the NFL draft.
How is Izien feeling about his chances? “There’s a lot of high hopes around it and I’m really optimistic about getting drafted,” he said. Izien says his personal favorite team is the NY Giants, as he even grew up going to Giants tickertape parades after their Super Bowl wins, but as for his preference of where he’ll wind up, Izien says he’ll be happy with any team. “I’m not going to be picky,” he said. “To even get the opportunity to be on a team anywhere is a blessing.”
Izien is eagerly anticipating draft day. “It’s surreal with it being less than two weeks away. It’s a dream come true,” he said. He’ll be watching the draft with some of those who have supported him most, including his dad, Christian Izien, and his mom, Michelle Matthews. “My parents sacrificed a bunch to put me in the position I’m in, sending me to these schools and trusting other family to take care of me and helping me pursue my career. It’s been a journey,” Izien said.
Izien says he also credits his many coaches throughout his career for helping him get to this point, including Danny Lambert, a Rockaway native who coached him at Erasmus Hall. “He went to bat for me during recruiting in my senior year and he helped me get the opportunity I did have,” Izien said.
If he does become an NFL pro, Izien says he won’t forget about Rockaway. Much like his fellow Far Rockaway football star Foley Fatukasi, who went on to play for the NFL but returns for the annual Rock the Block event, Izien says he’ll be back. “I have some plans for Rockaway,” he said.
Inspiring youth is one of Izien’s missions. “I hope my story motivates kids below me and around me. If you can stay focused on your dreams and don’t let anything get in the way, those dreams are possible,” Izien said. “I hope I can reach kids and give them the motivation they need to keep taking those steps in their journey. Just never give up.”