PREVIEW: Belgium’s Flemish American Football League Kicks Off

Belgium’s FAFL (Flemish) League ‘s division I kicks off in earnest this weekend with a clash between the defending champions the Brussels Black Angels and the 2015 champions the Ghent Gators.

The FAFL has split into two divisions for the 2016 season. The Brussels Black Angels, Ghent Gators, Izegem Tribes and Ostend Pirates will play in Division I and face each other twice. Division II will see the Leuven Lions, Limburg Shotguns and the AAFC (Antwerp American Football Club), a merger of the Antwerp Diamonds and Puurs Titans, play each other three times.

The AAFC and Leuven Lions met in the first game of Division II play with the AAFC dominating 36-3.

Let’s take a look at how each team in both divisions looks for the 2016 season.

Brussels Black Angels – FAFL Division I

Belgium - Brussels Black Angels

The current national champions want to extend their title. The Brussels Black Angels roster on offense did not change much. They will lean on their strong running game with running back Brian de Caluwe and fullback Sam Bangamuabo. The quarterback position however is still a mystery. With two experienced players battling for the starting job, Kevin Noël and Francis Njufom, head coach Romuald Derys has a difficult job to choose one. Regardless of who starts on quarterback the brothers Bouron will be their favorite targets. Brice and Thomas Bouron, both Belgian Barbarians, will lead the charge from the tight end and receiver positions.

On the defensive side of the ball there have been some changes for the Black Angels. Defensive end Bart Meys and defensive tackle Rahsidi Banza both announced their retirement. On top of this Brussels lost linebacker Dennis Tetteh who made the switch to the AAFC. The Black Angels will lean on their strong secondary, lead by safety Hadrien Godichal.

Ghent Gators – FAFL Division I

Belgium - Ghent Gators logo

The Belgian champions from two years ago hope to pick up slack in this season. After losing in the wild-card game against the Waterloo Warriors last year they hope to reach the Belgian Bowl once again. Head coach Roald Piqueur will be counting on his quarterback Bart Killens to lead his team to victory!

Killens, who was one of the top quarterbacks last year, will retire following the season. Because of this back-up Gilles Van Overschelde will probably see some more playing time. They will be throwing the football to their top wide receiver Thomas Lezy. In the backfield, Sander De Gussem will replace Lionel Mankusa. The Belgian Barbarian running back is still recovering from a shoulder injury.

On the defensive side of the football some changes have been made. Free safety Eckhart Piqueur retired in the offseason and he will be replaced by veteran Floris Van Cauwenberghe. Following this move a rookie will take over the starting cornerback position. In the heart of the defense linebacker Willem Doms will lead the team in their hunt for a playoff berth.

Izegem Tribes – FAFL Division I

Belgium - Izegem Tribes logo

The Izegem Tribes finished in fourth place last year. Enough to be in the first division this year. Head Coach Dale Housden expects a lot of his young team.
“We have a lot of rookies and juniors coming through. I expect probably six starters to be in their first year of senior football which is really exciting.”
 With a lot of players returning from last year, the amount of rookies expected to start is remarkable. The youngsters will have to lean on veterans such as left tackle Jeroen Vanhauwere and quarterback Lukas Vojnar. On the defensive side the Tribes will rely on Barbarian Cederic Veryser to lead the team together with linebacker Wim Vanmarcke.

Ostend Pirates – FAFL Division I

Belgium - Ostend Pirates logo

After a tough loss in the semi-finals last year, the Ostend Pirates hope to reach the Belgian Bowl this year. They have focused on the depth of their roster this year in order to accomplish this. With a lot of juniors becoming senior players the Pirates hope to have an advantage over the other teams. 
Their most important unit is the offensive line. With veterans Tim Vandenabeele, Pieterjan Van Rousselt, Kevin Maratta and Stijn Dossche returning they hope to continue their great play from next season. This great offensive line will guard dual threat quarterback Benedict Vermaut.
This offense will be complemented by a strong defense with veteran  linebacker Nick Vanhee, defensive end Tibo Debailie and cornerback Nicholas Ciammaichella leading the charge.

Antwerp American Football Club – FAFL Division II

The Antwerp American Football Club (AAFC) is the product of a merger between the Antwerp Diamonds and the Puurs Titans. This new young team has a lot of ambition. By winning division two they want to clinch a play-off berth. They get to play the number three of the first division for a place in the wild-card round.

The most experienced unit on the field will be the defense. Captain Sergio Borra has been playing football since 1989. With four Belgian Bowl titles he will be the veteran leader on the team. On the defensive line the return of Isa Salehe, defensive end for the Belgian Barbarians, will bring some much needed stability for a young inexperienced unit. On the back end the secondary will be carried by Belgian Barbarian Isaac Luntadila Lufungula and experienced cornerback Nils De Groef.

On the offensive side of the football Cody Butler will take on the quarterback position. The offensive line will be led by veterans Gilles Pierre and Hendrik Tilleman. In the backfield the AAFC has former Belgian Barbarians Darnhell Kabongo who has returned from injury. After injuries to star wide-outs Dimitri Daems and Raphael Baeten the receiving corps is a little undermanned. The gap will be filled by junior players Tim De Keyser, Cian Borra and Cedric Bellemans.

Limburg Shotguns – FAFL Division II

Belgium - Limburg Shotguns logo

The Limburg Shotguns had one of their worst seasons ever in 2015. Their goal is to improve this year to a winning season. The new head coach Sven Peeraerts will have to accomplish this without veteran leader Michael Eeman who tore his ACL. His injury will thrust American Charles Roundtree into the role of starting quarterback. On the offensive line a couple of rookies will start. They will be guided by veterans Jef Van Gorp and Gert Nelissen. Elias Demolder will be the top threat for Roundtree.

On the defense the defensive line will be the most important unit. They will welcome back veteran Seppe Claes after couple of weeks into the season after a hand injury. They will be backed by a linebacker corps with three veteran players: Dennis Baptist, Nick Aerts and Davy Verduyn.

Leuven Lions – FAFL Division II

Belgium - Leuven Lions logo

The Leuven Lions will come out in Division II this year after only winning two games in 2015. Following an abysmal 2015 season the coaching staff fell apart. The Lions have only two full time coaches and no head coach. And with only 30 players on the roster, everybody is expected to play both ways.

The Lions not only lost a lot of coaches but also some important players. Offensive lineman Jonas Van Cappellen, receiver Kobe Craeninckx, linebacker Kim de Cooman and safety Arno Smets all retired. Youngster Pieter Snoeck will have to step up on the offensive line because of an injury to barbarian Marco Gulisano. Tight end Kim Van Camp, running backs Jonas Van Vlasselaer and Louis Adjei and offensive tackle Gust Wera will try to bring stability and veteran leadership for the offense.

On defense Barbarian Levi Geerts will lead the charge. He will get help from a Ukranian player who came to the team this year. Linebacker Ievgenii Khomutovskyi will bring some much needed experience to the tarnished defense.

Still chairman Jo Decoster sees a bright future in 2016:

“Because of joint practices with the Fighting Turtles our young players and coaches made a lot of progress this off season. With the new division system we play every team three times. This also means we have the time to make necessary adjustments for the next game. In football everything is possible so we expect our players to play to their ability and hopefully we can make the playoffs.”

Luther Rommens is a young American Football player from Antwerp, Belgium and a regular contributor to AFI.