Germany’s Frankfurt Universe have re-signed Austrian national team linebacker Dustin Illetschko for the 2017 season. The Universe had the best defense in the German Football League in 2016 and in re-signing Illetschko, the country’s second leading tackler, they have ensured they will continue to dominate defensively.
The 6′, 230 lb native of Vienna, Austria, was a one-man wrecking crew for the Universe in 2016 amassing 139 tackles in 15 games which led the team by a wide margin. Illetschko, a product of the Vienna Vikings football program, was named Defensive Player of the Year for Frankfurt. He came to the Universe after playing one season with the Finnish champion Helsinki Roosters in 2015 where he earned Maple League All Star honors. He was named Austria’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 after helping the Vienna Vikings win the Austrian crown.
American Football International asked Dustin about playing abroad and re-signing with Frankfurt.
American Football International: You have played in three different countries for three different teams. Why did you re-sign with Frankfurt?
Dustin Illetschko: Playing for the Universe is different compared to other places. The feeling coming out of the tunnel in front of 7000 screaming fans is unreal. I feel like a professional athlete in Frankfurt. There is a big hype going on, the fans and the management make game days unforgettable. They put on a show.
Another reason is of course the unfinished business. We won the European Football League title, but came up short in the German quarterfinals. I know the goal before the season had started was to reach the playoffs, but my personal was to win it all. So that’s why I’m coming back, to win the Euro Bowl and the German Bowl not matter what. I want to prove them all wrong.
AFI: How long have you been playing football?
Illetschko: I started in 2004 in the Vienna Vikings under-14 team. Went through all the junior programs and played my first season for the men’s team in 2011. Also played for the men’s national team in the World Championships the same year. I actually wanted to retire after the 2014 season with the Vikings, after losing the European Championship final to Germany. Told my coaches in Vienna that I was going to retire and a couple months later Benji Bubik, one of my best friends, put me in contact with Juha Hakala, who was the head coach for the Helsinki Roosters at the time. One week later I signed my contact and left for Finland in April.
AFI: You took a big chance to play in Finland. Why that move?
Illetschko: Benji first told me that he had talked to Juha and that he told him about me being interested in such a move as well. Shortly after that I talked to Juha myself and discussed all the details about what I was putting myself up too. Since I am a student in Vienna I felt like that was something I needed to do for myself. In Vienna I had been an amateur all my life so that was my big chance to finally be the imported pro player myself. Also I saw this as something I had to do for myself as a character, to get away from home and meet new people, make new friends and learn something about a different culture.
I was super excited about this opportunity and to this day it has been the best decision of my life. It has opened up so many new doors for me. And I am more than grateful that I had been giving this huge opportunity by the Helsinki Roosters. I consider the Roosters my family. I just visited Helsinki two weeks ago and I still have a lot of lifetime friends there whom I am very grateful for.
AFI: Can you compare the level of football in the three places?
Illetschko: All the leagues play good quality football. There are just little things which are different. The game speed differs a little bit for example. But I would say, if you put Finland’s and Austria’s playoff teams in the GFL and took out all the non playoff teams in Germany it would make a pretty competitive league.
AFI: Do you have a favorite food since leaving home?
lletschko: I really enjoyed the food markets in Finland. I love calamari rings and those small grilled fishes. Other than than not really. I enjoyed the food in Germany but I really did miss Austrian cuisine.
AFI: What do you bring to the Universe?
Illetschko: I think i bring a lot of experience and good understanding for the game to the team. I always try to motivate my teammates. In tough situations in close games i try to keep calm and be a leader by example. I try to lead the team by the way i act and perform on field and also with my behavior off the field. I always go 100 miles per hour. As soon as i step on the field it’s GO time. I try to get better every day. You can always get better at what you do.
AFI: What are your expectations for 2017?
Illetschko: I wanna go to Frankfurt and be successful in what we do. My expectations are winning the Euro Bowl and German Bowl no matter what. I just wanna be successful and make the impossible possible.
AFI: What are your football plans for the future?
Illetschko: To be honest I really don’t know about that right now. I’ll just take the opportunities as they pop up.
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