France: DI Elite Championship kicks off for the first time in two years

This weekend will see the return of the French DI Elite Championship after a two-year hiatus.

The league will be made up of 12 teams and two conferences, Conference A and B. Both conferences will have three playoff spots up for grabs with top seeds receiving a bye into the semifinals and the second and third place teams playing a wild card playoff. The six clubs will battle it out for a chance to be crowned 26th Diamond Bowl champions in July.

The league looks to return better than ever this year with a newly signed national broadcasting deal with Real World Media – with the support of the French Olympic Committee. The broadcast will cover the game of the week and appear on Saturday evenings just after the pro basketball league.

Saturday February 12

Game of the Week: La Courneuve Flash vs Thonon Les Bains Black Panthers

The week-one game of the week this Saturday will be the 2019 powerhouses, La Courneuve Flash vs Thonon Les Bains Black Panthers. Both will be appearing with new QBs; the Flash with Austrian Football League league leader Conor Miller (Florida Atlantic NCAA DI); and the Black Panthers with Canadian All-Star Brett Hunchak (York University, Toronto) after a year with Swedish powerhouse, the Stockholm Mean Machines.

The Flash have also added the unique skill-set of American TE Ryan Smith who played in the GFL last year. The Parisian side have never struggled with young talent and will undoubtedly sport a strong athletic defense. But a question mark that does remain is the status of national team RB Jason Bofunda due to a lengthy ITC transfer from his 2021 season with the Frankfurt Universe.

The Black Panthers will also return with new faces as the departure of QB Clark Evans forced them to find a new signal caller. Further additions include WR Remi Bertellin, who played at McGill University (Montreal) and more recently with the ELF’s Barcelona Dragons, and American RB Akiva Wedge (Southern Virginia NCAA DIII).

The approach returning Black Panther head coach Larry Legault brings will be one to watch out for as he has made a reputation for himself as a run-first coach. But with the new additions that the team has, it may force him to go in another direction to play to his team’s strengths.

Marseille Blue Stars vs Montpellier Hurricanes

The number three team in France will most likely be the Marseille Blue Stars who have been growing a steady and strong program for years. The consistency and reliability that returning Canadian QB Kaleb Scott brings will give the team a strong grounding as they look to take on the Montpellier Hurricanes and French national team QB Joachim Torrelli.

Molosses d’Asnières sur Seine vs Spartans of Amiens

The late-night game on Saturday will see two 2019 semifinalists in Molosses d’Asnières sur Seine and Spartans of Amiens. The Molosses will look to get an easy win in week one with the Spartans struggling with recruitment after the pandemic.

Sunday February 13

Catalan Grizzlys vs Argonauts d’Aix en Provence

The team fighting for the second playoff spot in the south looks to be Argonauts d’Aix en Provence. A team that has 29 seasons in the top league and eight French championships will undoubtedly be looking for more after a two-season playoff drought. Mike Pina will be leading the charge at QB for the Argonauts who had a stand-out career at Nichols College (NCAA DIII).

The Argonauts opponent the Catalan Grizzlys will be seeing their first action in the top division after their promotion in 2020. Newly arrived QB import will be Jake Purichia (UIndy NCAA DII) who previously played in the GFL for Kiel Baltic Hurricanes.

Vikings de Villeneuve d’Ascq vs Cougars de Saint Ouen l’Aumône

The Cougars de Saint Ouen l’Aumône surprised French fans in 2019 after reaching the final but losing out to the Black Panthers. Quarterbacking the team this year will be American Brody Hahn, the Muskingum (NCAA DII) record holder who later transferred to Ohio Northern (NCAA DII) in 2019.

Not much is known about their opponents, the Vikings de Villeneuve d’Ascq. But after a promotion in the 2020 season to DI Elite, they will surely be looking to make a name for themselves in France.

Toulouse Ours vs Grenoble Centaurs

Another of the newly promoted clubs is Toulouse Ours. The club will be captained by 2020 Canadian QB Cameron Valardo who played his college football at St Mary’s University (Halifax).

Grenoble Centaurs will be sporting a number of young players this year, hoping to build for the future. Among them is Tunisian import CB Mehdi Saidi and American RB Derritt Potts who played his football at Mount St Joseph University (NCAA DIII). The Centaurs will be going in with French QBs Loic Caruso and Benjamin Perrin, each competing for the starting spot for the year.

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who works in journalism and communications in the third sector. Daniel began playing football for the London Warriors and Team Great Britain and has since played across Europe.