ELF: Homegrown Hero Series –Stuttgart Surge’s stud Serbian Safety Goran Zec

The championship game is finally upon us in the European League of Football. As only two teams remain looking to raise the 2023 trophy, we’ll continue to highlight the league’s best international players, as the ELF Homegrown Hero series aims to shine a light on those players outside of the US and Canada making an impact on the ELF and maybe even becoming champions this season.

One of the stories of the ELF this season has been Stuttgart’s miraculous climb from worst to a potential top spot if they can pull off the upset against the Rhein Fire this weekend. Head coach Jordan Neuman has led the formerly winless Surge to the brink of a championship in one season. The three-time German Bowl winning coach of course recruited many of his former players from his dominant run as head coach of the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns prior to the season. One key player who was reunited with Neuman was Serbian veteran defensive back Goran Zec.

The 29-year-old has been a leader in Stuttgart secondary reuniting well with Neuman and defensive coordinator Cody Pastorino. The 5 ‘10″, 185-pound Serb has racked up 70 tackles, three pass break ups, and three interceptions in 11 games for the Surge. 

The 2022 ELF All-Star first began youth career in 2007 playing for the Indija Indians, about an hour north of Belgrade. For the next 11 years, he bounced between the Indians and the Novi Sad Dukes before signing for German powerhouse, the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns in 2018, where he was coached by Jordan Neuman for the first time– before reuniting with Stuttgart’s new head coach this season.

In two seasons with the Unicorns, he began to show how versatile he could be as a defender racking up 103 tackles, 10 pass break-ups, four interceptions and a touchdown, and won his first National Championship, the German Football League title, in 2018.

In 2022 with the Wroclaw Panthers of the ELF, Zec amassed 88 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, eight pass break-ups and a league-leading six interceptions. Despite his stellar performance, the Panthers went 5-7, a step down from their inaugural year.

Zec sat down with us for a quick Q&A on his football journey and his thoughts on the upcoming 2023 Championship Game.

AFI: What’s the feeling of the team for the championship?

Zec: We are all excited and ready to work hard this week and get ready for Sunday! 

AFI: What are the keys to victory Sunday?

Zec: We have to be perfect and play our best game on Sunday!

AFI: What’s it like playing for coach Jordan Neuman again?

Zec: It’s amazing, I wish for every player in Europe to play for coach Neuman.

AFI: What made you choose Stuttgart this off season?

Zec: Defensive coordinator (and former teammate) Cody Pastorino

AFI: What’s the goal of the Surge this season?

Zec: I believe for every team in this league a goal is the championship game and once you are there everything is possible.

AFI: How’s it been being part of the Surge rebuild this year?

Zec: What I can say? I enjoyed the whole process. All the work we did pays off and now we have a chance to be ELF 2023 champs.

AFI: How did you start playing football?

Zec: My neighbor came up to me one day back in 2007 and asked me if I would like to come and play American football. That’s how everything started.

AFI: What is your goal through the sport?

Zec: My goal is to enjoy the process and become a better person on and off the field.

AFI: What’s your favorite football memory so far?

Zec: Beating Vienna and road to championship game!

AFI: What’s the future of football in Serbia?

Zec: I would say there is potential and talent, all we need there is infrastructure and sponsor support. Someone who will reorganize the potential we have as a sport and country.

AFI: How does it feel to be maybe the top Serbian in the ELF?

Zec: I just got a chance to play in the league. I know some guys would ball out in this league once they get a chance.

AFI: What do you do outside of football?

Zec: I do personal training and coach kids in my hometown team in Serbia.

Alex is a former NCAA and semi-pro American football player who is now located in London, where he works in digital marketing. His goal in writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and