European League of Football Preview 2022: Central Conference

The European League of Football is set to kick off its second season on Saturday and plenty has changed since we saw the league last. New faces and new places will be the talk of Week 1, with four franchises making their debut and exciting signings set to debut across the league.

American Football International is getting you prepped for all the action with a preview of each of the league’s three conferences, letting you know what teams did or didn’t do in the lead up to the season.

We wrap things up with the Central Conference, home to the defending champion Frankfurt Galaxy, the returning Stuttgart Surge, and the league’s two new Austrian teams: the Raiders Tirol and the Vienna Vikings.

Frankfurt Galaxy: 2021 Record 11-1 (ELF Champions)

After taking home the inaugural ELF championship a year ago, Thomas Kosling’s powerhouse team remains largely unchanged entering their second season. With one of the deepest coaching staffs in the league, which bodes extremely well for a repeat.

Much like the 2021 season, you can expect a deep Frankfurt defense to be the driving force for this team. While lock-down cover man Omari Williams defected to the upstart Rhein Fire, former NFL defensive back Fernando Lowery returned to the fold and will be joined by fellow import Jermaine Brealy Jr., an up-and-comer from Division II Pitt State. The 2021 interception king, Joshua Poznanski, will continue to hold things together at safety, but it will be the team’s linebacking corps that truly gives teams fits.

Swedish sensation Sebastian Gauthier has returned to the fold, providing the defense a Swiss army knife that can drop into coverage or blitz off the edge, but he’ll now be joined by a French monster in the middle, Wael Nasri. The ELF’s leading tackler from last season left the Berlin Thunder in an attempt to win a ring, ensuring that two of the league’s best players are sitting at the second level of the Galaxy defense. Capable contributors Daniel Joseph, Louis Achaintre and Sebastian Silva Gomez round out a group that is the deepest in the league.

Up front, expect veteran Marc Anthony Hor to continue to be the driving force, but the French tandem of Vincent Buffet and Mamadou Sy should add some push up the middle. However, it is the other side of the trenches that Frankfurt really loaded up. All-stars Joachim Christensen and Yannic Kiehl return to the offensive line, but they are joined by two of the best in all of Europe in former Kuopio Steelers Basil Weber and Tim Hirsch, along with European gold medalist Francesco Runco of Italy.

The big-bodied additions will help open holes for the returning backfield tandem of Gennadiy Adams and Justin Rodney, but Frankfurt will likely be a pass-first attack. Championship game MVP Jakeb Sullivan is back as the starting quarterback and while he might not have former Philadelphia Eagle Anthony Mahoungou to throw to anymore, his receiving committee is otherwise intact. Nico Strahmann, Marvin Rutsch, Hendrik Schwarz, Lorenz Regler and Cheikhou Sow should all see plenty of balls thrown their way.

With former Ball State kicker Ryan Rimmler brought in to address a need on special teams, it is hard to find fault on Frankfurt’s roster. Expect the Galaxy to be contenders once again.

Stuttgart Surge: 2021 Record 2-8 (Missed Playoffs)

For a flagship German franchise, it is safe to say that the Stuttgart Surge underperformed in 2021. With head coach Martin Hanselmann still at the helm, they’ve added pieces, but will it be enough to stay alive in a loaded conference?

Offensively, Stuttgart is handing the keys to former Copenhagen Towers quarterback Randall Schroeder and betting on some young pieces around him. The running back stable is deep with returnees like Sanka Moukouri and Bryan Yankson, veteran Serbian addition David Kovacevic, and new Frenchman Chris Voumbo, but none are proven workhorses. The same is true in the receiving corps, where the departure of Rookie of the Year Louis Geyer to the Cologne Centurions really stings.

The burden will fall on import tight end David Meza and receiver Paul Steigerwald to produce, but the team will need an unproven addition like former Frankfurt Galaxy receiver Noah Mombe, Schwabisch Hall convert Enrico Pascual, or former Potsdam Royal Moritz Riedinger. They’ll need something similar in the trenches, where the drop off is steep after Darnell Minton and Benhur Ayra on offense and team MVP Marcel Furst on defense.

The linebacking corps is where the Surge’s roster starts to get intriguing, where the defense will be led by import Ronley Lakalaka. Experienced European players Nikolas Knoblauch, Precious Ogbevoen, and Paul Veritas should all be heavy contributors, while the secondary still looks promising with rookie sensation Marcel Dabo now in the NFL. Benji Barnes, Ben Wenzler and Nick Wenzelburger all return, with former Schwäbisch Hall Unicorn Junior Nkembi added to the fold. They’ll be joined by standout import corner Malcolm Washington, who returns to Europe for the first time since his ten-interception season with the Allgäu Comets in 2019.

Raiders Tirol: Inaugural ELF season

The 2021 Austrian champions begin their first season in the ELF with high expectations. Led by head coach Kevin Herron and two outstanding coordinators in Kyle Callahan and former Berlin head coach Jag Bal, the Raiders are clearly gunning for a title right off the bat.

Offensively, European import legend Sean Shelton will be running the show and using the ELF to build on a sterling legacy that already includes seven league MVP titles. He’ll do so behind much the same offensive line as he always has, with the addition of exceptional Finnish tackle Tony Koskinen, and throwing to an impressive cast of weapons.

Expect Shelton’s built-in rapport with veteran Adrian Platzgummer and pint-sized budding star Marco Schneider to pay immediate dividends, but he has three new homegrown weapons to play with as well. Speedy Yannick Mayr had been a dominant deep threat for the rival Vienna Vikings before spending last season with the Schwabisch Hall Unicorns and he’ll be joined on the roster by Danube Dragons standout Phillip Haun. Former Graz Giants tight end Markus Schaberl rounds out the talent drain from Austria’s best teams and the team will have prolific Henderson State running back Logan Moragne in the backfield to keep teams honest.

On the defensive side of the ball, Tirol has beefed up their pass rush big time. Division II sack artist Derrick Brumfield of Notre Dame College will be an intriguing rookie import on one end, while German Niklas Gustav should be a ready-made star on the other after being plucked straight off the active roster of the CFL’s B.C. Lions. Lithuanian Lauryanas Orlovicius brings North American pro experience to the interior as well.

Familiar Austrian names like Ruben Seeber, Alex Ferrari, Lucky Ogbeveon and Patrick Pilger dot the linebacking corps, but the Raiders swung big in the secondary as well. Former Ottawa Redblacks safety Tony Anderson of France makes it two former CFL players on the defense, while fellow Frenchmen Lucas Veluire and Maxime Roger will be interesting additions. They’ll join the Raiders‘ existing Austrian difference maker Vincent Muller on the back end, where former Mississippi Valley State starter Dominique Shelton provides a potential impact import to boot.

Vienna Vikings: Inaugural ELF season

Long-time head coach Chris Calaycay and the Vikings will join their iconic Austrian rival in the ELF, and they certainly have not fallen behind in the arms race. That is certainly true at quarterback, where the Vikings are bringing in one of the most exciting new additions to the league in former Gagliardi Trophy winner Jackson Erdmann, a player who had several NFL teams interested in him last year.

Erdmann’s adjustment to the European game is sure to be eased by the ELF’s best safety blanket, tight end Adria Botella Moreno. The undisputed best player at his position in Europe, the Spaniard left the Hamburg Seas Devils after an outstanding campaign and will be a focal point in Vienna’s offense. He’ll be joined by a pair of talented receivers with CFL experience in Italian Jordan Bouah and Finn Linnainmaa, as well as six-foot-six former Graz Giant Florian Bierbaumer. The loss of import Weston Carr to a season-ending injury is a massive blow, but Wesleyan product Mike Breuler should slide in rather seamlessly.

Also helping the new quarterback will be a stellar crew of offensive lineman, highlighted by the return of Aleksandr Milanovic and the addition of outstanding Swede Niklas Johansson of the Carlstad Crusaders. British lineman Toby Lettman, who played at TCU, is another intriguing signing and he should help to open up holes for the Wegan brothers, Anton and Florian, in the run game.

Defensively, Vienna’s’ strength will be in their familiar faces. Their veteran ball-hawking secondary will be full-force with the likes of Luis Horvath, Benjamin Straight, and Sebastian Wimmer all trying their hand at the ELF. They’ll eventually be joined by do-it-all American Exavier Edwards but his temporary replacement due to injury to start the season is Cody Smith, a player with a European resume a mile long.

Injury will also prevent the return of linebacker Dustin Illetschko to the Vikings, but the team has one of Austria’s undisputed best in former Graz Giants middle linebacker Thomas Schnurrer. His former teammate, import Blake Nelson, will be a do-it-all powerhouse along the defensive line and former GFL all-star Dominic Siegel of the Munich Cowboys is a proven presence on the interior, but all eyes will be on the unstoppable Austrian sack champion Leon Balogh to see how he’ll adjust to the higher quality tackle play in the ELF.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.