European League of Football Preview 2022: Northern Conference

This weekend the European League of Football is back for its second season. Four new teams, three new conferences, two new countries, and one excited fan base are eager for this weekend’s kickoff.

Previewing the league’s opening week, we’ll be taking a look at each conference, one by one, diving into what teams did… and didn’t do to prepare for kickoff.

We begin with the Northern Conference, which includes last year’s runners up, the Hamburg Sea Devils, semifinalists, the Wroclaw Panthers, and the revamped Leipzig Kings and Berlin Thunder squads.

Hamburg Sea Devils: 2021 record 8-4 (Lost Championship)

Under the new leadership of head coach Charles Jones, the Hamburg Sea Devils enter this season on the heels of a narrow championship loss. Many of the team’s top players from last year have returned in hopes of finishing off a title run that fell just short a year ago.

Defensively, one of the league’s most notable players is back in Kasim “Vollmaschine” Edebali. The six-year NFL veteran spent most of last year sidelined by an injury. Now we’ll see if the 32-year-old can make a bigger impact in 2022. Also returning to Hamburg’s defensive front are impact players Evans Yeboah and Nelson Imasuen. Linebackers Daniel Laporte and Matthias Spiegel also return, along with defensive backs Luis Muller and former UTEP (NCAA D1) defender Justin Rogers

Some key additions to the defense are Swiss pass rusher Tim Haenni, linebacker Lars Bardenhagen, and defensive back Kevin Fortes. American import Daniel Brown joins Fortes as a newcomer in the secondary after a stellar career at Nevada (NCAA D1)

Offensively, German quarterback Salieu Ceesay takes over as QB1. After a year backing up Jadrian Clark, Hamburg is giving the reins to the homegrown passer. Ceesay does have NCAA experience playing two seasons at Azusa Pacific (NCAA DII) and flashing some potential in his limited playing time last season.

Ceesay will benefit from a bulked up offensive line that includes former D1 players Francis Bongwalanga (Houston Baptist) and Dominik Behrens (Umass). Joining Ceesay in the backfield will be newcomers Gerald Ameln and Glen Toonga. Tight end John Levi-Kruse returns after turning down a CFL contract to play in his hometown once again. 

Jean Constant the league’s leading receiver last year, comes over from Barcelona. His impact will be enormous on both offense and special teams. Lamar Jordan II also joins the Sea Devils after playing quarterback at New Mexico (NCAA D1) and receiver for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Look for him to step behind center if Ceesay goes down or struggles. New 6’5 receiver slash tight end Brandon Camara could end up being a great red-zone target, complimenting returning possession receiver Jean-Claude Madin.

Leipzig Kings 2021 record 5-5 (Missed Playoffs)

Coach Fred Armstrong leads the Kings into the 2022 season under new management and in a new home stadium. Last year, Armstrong and the Kings had to assemble a roster, stadium, and coaching staff just weeks before kick-off. This year, things have gone smoother allowing them to have a real off-season and the time to build their 2022 squad.

And a busy off-season it was as the Kings made several eye-popping signings, especially on defense. All-Europe linebacker AJ Wentland joined from the Dresden Monarchs, along with veteran kicker Patrick Finke. Yet perhaps the biggest surprise was the signing of the best domestic defender in the league, Jan Phillip-Bombek as he comes to Leipzig from Hamburg. They’ve also added former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Myke Tavarres, GFL All-Star Sasan Jelvani, versatile defensive back Javier Carrasco, veteran Swede William James, and former NCAA DII linebacker Burak Efendioglu.

The newcomers join a defense that already had some talented pieces in All-Europe defensive tackle Aslan Zetterberg and defensive back Roedion Henrique. If the Kings international talent can mesh, look for this defense to be one of the league’s best, especially in the front seven. 

Offensively, quarterback Jordan Barlow replaces Michael Birdsong, arguably the league’s best quarterback last year. Barlow (SAGU NAIA) will benefit from some talent around him as Leipzig has re-signed former NFL receiver Anthony Dable-Wolf and 6’10″ offensive lineman Max Bruder

Thirty-four-year old David Mccants will trade in his coaching shirt for a helmet and join the Kings on the field this year. McCants played 10 seasons in Germany from 2009-2019 rushing for over 11,000 yards, 150 touchdowns, and winning six German Bowl titles in the process. We’ll see how much gas he has left in the tank this year. The Kings have also signed GFL all-star tight end Phillip Eichhorn and young Swedish receiver Anton Jallai. Chinese talent Shida Wang also joins the Kings with experience as a defensive back and receiver. Up front the Kings also added Brazilian lineman Pollys Junio Sacramento.

Wroclaw Panthers: 2021 record (6-5 Semi-Finals)

Head coach Jakub Samel leads the Polish powerhouse Panthers into their second ELF season. The Panthers trot out many returning players this year with the addition of some key home-grown players such as Filip Snope, Mateusz Samczuk, and Bartosz Woźniak.

The physical Panthers defense should be much improved with the help of defensive coordinator Dave Likins. Likins has lured safety Lars Steffen, pass rusher Semmie Radji, CFL veteran Maxime Rouyer during the off-season. It will be interesting to see how the new talent meshes with returning pieces like linebacker Rubert Ogrodowczyk, defensive back Goran Zec, linebacker William Lloyd, and All-Europe cornerback Darius Robinson

Offensively, much of the Panthers offensive line returns as well as running back Phileas Pasqualini. On the outside, Polish receivers Przemyslaw Banat, Jakub Mazan, and Barosz Dziedzic welcome former D1 talent Malik Stanley (LA Tech NCAA DI) to the receiver room. 

Quarterback Justice Hansen will be the Panthers starter. The 6’4″, 220-pound prototype passer has the best NCAA resume of any quarterback in ELF, winning Sun Belt Player of the Year in 2018. Hansen is a former Oklahoma (NCAA DI) signee who transferred to Arkansas State (NCAA DI) and amassed 10,133 passing yards to go along with 83 touchdowns and 33 interceptions. On the ground, the dual-threat quarterback put up another 957 yards and 14 touchdowns. After cups of coffee in the NFL and CFL, Hansen has a chance to be the new face of the ELF

It’s also worth noting, former Houston Texans and Minnesota Vikings head coach Gary Kubiak will be joining the Panthers staff in a consultancy role. 

Berlin Thunder: 2021 record 3-7

A revamped Thunder squad will take the field in the German capital this year, as former NFL first round pick Björn Werner has taken over as manager of the team.

In his first few moves, Werner snatched up the reigning defensive player of the year Kyle Kitchens, signed new head coach Johnny Schmuck, and upgraded the quarterback position bringing in Joe Germinerio (Ithaca NCAA DIII)

The Thunder offense, now guided by Germinerio, re-signed back running back Joc Crawford (Kansas NCAA D1) along with tight end Nicolai Schumann. Receiver Robin Wilzek joins the Thunder after a standout season in Dresden. In an effort to improve one of the league’s worst offensive lines last year, Thunder management has brought in Brits Lawrence CornwallBaptiste and Connor Bolton of the London Warriors.

Defensively Kyle Kitchens was one of the biggest additions of the off-season. The 2021 DPOY put up 12.5 sacks and 23 tackles for a loss last year. Joining Kitchens on the defensive line are Frenchmen Stanley Zergbe, young Ben Nauenberg, and veteran Marcel Behm. Amir Kilani and Robby Kendall (Sacramento State NCAA DI FCS) are new additions that should help the secondary. Linebackers Ludwig Myren, Paul Seifert, and Rayan Khefif hope to contain a division full of talented running backs.

It will be interesting to see if this new-look Thunder squad can compete in a tough division after changing much of the roster during the off-season.

Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football