2017 Austrian Football League Opening Weekend Preview

This weekend the 2017 AFL season begins with games in Vienna, Traun, Hohenems and Ljubljana

One of the world’s most competitive American football leagues begins it’s journey to Austrian Bowl XXXIII this Saturday. The 2017 season will take place over ten weeks of action and culminate on July 29, 2017 at Klagenfurt’s Wörthersee Stadium in the Austrian final.

A number of interesting opening weekend match-ups make for an exciting week 1 in Austria. Among the storylines we see the AFL’s newcomers host the defending champions while a dead-even game will be played in Vienna.

Danube Dragons v. AFC Mödling Rangers
Saturday, March 25, 2017 (3p CET, 10 EDT), Stadion Stadlau Vienna

Austria’s ‘Game of the Week’ sees the Danube Dragons host last season ‘surprise’ team – the AFC Mödling Rangers. The Rangers finished 5th in the AFL last year, but were 0-2 against the Dragons.
Dual coaching debuts

For the Dragons, head coach Stefan Pokorny has replaced Ivan Zivko, who led the Dragons for the past 11 seasons . The 30-year-old has not only strengthened his coaching staff with offense coordinator Gene Alim, and his roster with imports quarterback Dylan Potts and defender Jack Moro. 

Potts, an experienced European player, was a member of the Stuttgart Scorpions of the German Football League in 2015. Moro also brings European experience. In 2014 and 2015 he played with the Swedish powerhouse Carlstad Crusaders and helped the club win two national championships. He will be used as safety, cornerback and returner.

New Mödling Rangers head coach Armin Schneider will rely on a quartet of imports to boost the upstart Rangers into the top of the AFL. The AFL allows up to three ‘A-class’ imports to compete in each game, with only two allowed on the field at the same time.

Former college teammates  Roman Namdar (wide reciever) and Taurice Scott (quarterback) will attempt to re-enact the on-field connections they had while at Mount Union (NCAA D-III). The duo is joined by  defensive back Marcus Bratton (University of Virgina at Wise, NCAA D-II) who played with France’s Thonon-les-bains Black Panthers (2014) and Finland’s Turku Trojans (2015). Last but not least, Aaron Osborne (William Penn University, NAIA), will give the Rangers another athete who can play both reciever and defensive back. Osbourne spent last year with the Budapest Wolves in the AFL Division 1.

Traun Steelsharks v. Swarco Raiders Tirol
Saturday, March 25, 2017 (5p CET, 11a EDT), HAKA Arena Traun

The Traun Steelsharks have climbed from the Austria’s Division 1 to make their debut in the AFL. Saturday, they meet Austria’s reigning champion, the Swarco Raiders, who will surely give them a hearty welcome to top Austrian competition.

David against Goliath

After running the second tier table and dramatically winning Austria’s Division 1 title, the Steelsharks preparations for the 2017 AFL season started back in September of 2016.  This season’s goal for the Steelsharks, who will play without import players, is to play competitively with some of Europe’s top clubs. Returning head coach Keith Sealund, notes his team’s dedicated off-season training as key to getting ready to face to top competition like the Swarco Raiders.

And top competition they will face. The Swarco Raiders are one of Europe’s top program’s and return a strong roster to defend their Austrian title. “On Saturday, for us, there are no, ifs, and or buts. We are optimistic and ready to bring to the field to bring what we have practiced, said Swarco Raiders head coach  Shuan Fatah. “The Steelsharks were on the unbeaten for ten games last season, which makes them dangerous, and we have to show them their limits.”

Players to watch
#12 Sean Shelton (Quarterback, Swarco Raiders): Shelton was the 2016 AFL MVP. During Swarco Austria’s title run Shelton completed 215 of 320 passes for 30 touchdowns and two interceptions.

#7 Juergen Punzenberger (Quarterback, Traun Steelsharks): Punzenberger is the cornerstone of the Steelsharks. It will be interesting to see how he copes with his club’s ascent to the AFL.

Cineplexx Blue Devils v. Project Spielberg Graz Giants
Sunday, March 26, 2017 (3p CET, 9a EDT), Men’s Stadium Hohenems

Austrian Bowl XXXII runners-up, Graz Giants look to start on the path back to an Austrian Bowl appearance, while the Cineplexx Blue Devils aim to break into the top half of the AFL table after finishing second to last in 2016.

The Blue Devils have strengthened their position with several off-season moves. The club will now have five full-time coaches with head coach Tyler Harlow adding Brazilian Lex Braga as defensive coordinator. Harlow has also brought in two new U.S. imports, linebacker Jayden Dobbs and running back Colby Goodwyn.

The Giants also boosted their coaching staff by bringing in Brandon Charles Gorsuch as a third full-time coach for the offensive unit. Two U.S. import players also join the Giants this season. Running back O’Neil Blake, one of the key players in last season success, will again strengthen the Giants this year. New to the team will be 25-year-old linebacker and defensive back Andre Reyes (Briar Cliff University, NAIA).

Giants managing director Christoph Schreiner: “The 2016 season was a huge success with the appearance in the Austrian Bowl, but the past is the past and it is important for us to look ahead and take the next step. We need a victory against these opponents from Vorarlberg, who’ve surely gotten stronger.”

Two pre-season meetings between the clubs leave the Giants as heavy favorites in this AFL opener.

Ljubljana Silverhawks v. Dacia Vienna Vikings
Sunday, March 26, 2017  (3p CET, 9a EDT), Sportni Park Ljubljana

2016 was only the second season in the Austrian Football League for the Silverhawks, but the men from Ljubljana showed a strong performance and, although they lost both games against the Vikings, they reached the Austrian semi-finals and finished in 4th place (behind the Vienna Vikings).

“We are satisfied with what we have achieved last year, but hope for more this year,” said a confident Rok Stamcar, head coach of the Slovenians.

Vienna brings in a quarterback

After going without any imports players in 2016, the Vikings will have a non-Austrian lead their offense for the first time in eight years. Head coach Chris Calacalay has landed Kevin Burke from Mount Union (NCAA, D-III). Burke is a 3-time D-III All-American and the only 2-time winner of  Gagliardi Award, the prize given to the U.S.’s best offensive player in Division III American football. Burke also lead Team U.S.A. at the last IFAF World Championships in Canton, Ohio in 2015.

“We’re starting this season knowing that the Silverhawks are a tougher opponent – that’s true for their players and coaches alike,” said Vikings coach Calaycay. “We’ll be ready and look forward to the game!”

Quotes, excerpts, and translations from football-austria.com

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