When American Football International broke the news that Marco Ehrenfried was stepping down as the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns‘ starting quarterback, it made me curious how many home-grown European quarterbacks had the same success as Ehrenfried. A few names of active quarterbacks came to my mind: Italy’s Tommaso Monardi, France’s Paul Durand, and Sweden’s Anders Hermodsson, in particular. All of them won titles in their respective home countries, but only Ehrenfried would step down at 27 after having won back-to-back championships in the most competitive European league, the German Football League (GFL). Ehrenfried also won a European Championship with the German National Team in 2014. The only quarterback whose career bore some resemblance to Ehrenfried’s was that of Christoph Gross, the Austrian quarterback who led the Vienna Vikings to back-to-back titles and a Eurobowl before retiring at a similar age.
Being a former quarterback and quarterbacks coach myself, I always wondered what it takes to develop a great home-grown quarterback. There are a lot of young and talented quarterbacks in Europe, but few manage to succeed. Their success is integral to the growth of a team and to the growth of the game in Europe. Having a competent home-grown quarterback as a starter might save the team money that could instead be invested in better coaches, youth development, equipment, or import players to be employed at other positions. It would also prevent many talented backup quarterbacks from switching positions or quitting the sport altogether, which often takes place when the team imports a quarterback.
So how did Ehrenfried become a successful home-grown quarterback?
Marco picked up flag football in Schwäbisch Hall when he was 10 years old. He started out as a linebacker and wide receiver, before switching to quarterback (and safety) the following year. Flag football helped Ehrenfried transition to tackle football later on, as he already understood the structure of the game and the plays. When he turned 14, a 7-man junior league was his first taste of tackle football, followed by an 11-man junior league. After leading the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns Under 19 team to three consecutive south German championships, Ehrenfried moved to the Mannheim Bandits, where he had the chance to cut his teeth as a starting quarterback. The Unicorns has just won their first German Bowl and wanted to import an American quarterback for the following season to take part in international competition. “Those years were the most important,” recalled Ehrenfried, “because they gave me a chance to play and gain real game experience”.
After his two-year stint with the Bandits, he returned to the Unicorns, reuniting with his coaches. Ehrenfried credits both Jordan Neuman, and Jonny Brenner as those who helped him most in his development as a quarterback. In addition, it helped having the same coaches over a long period of time, as Brenner and Neuman were a constant presence on the Unicorns’ staff. This continuity made it possible to create a system and a range of plays that suited Ehrenfried’s style.
The German Football League allows the use of import players, who played a role in the development and success of Ehrenfried as well. “They’re the best players on your team,” stated the German quarterback. “They’re key to the success of the team and they also make my job easier.”
But the imports are not the only teammates who deserve credit for Ehrenfried’s success. Football is a team game, and a quarterback would be nothing without his offensive line. “You can’t have success without a functioning offensive line,” explains Ehrenfried, “If you don’t have a running game you end up being one-dimensional. It also helps having good pass protection for those longer-developing plays”.
The path to the starting quarterback job on one of the best teams in the GFL wasn’t easy, and to keep the job Ehrenfried had to continue working hard every day.
Being a successful quarterback requires dedication. Ehrenfried’s week consisted of two to three team practices – which included a 90-minute drive to and from the practice field – 3 gym sessions and two to three 30-minute video sessions to scout the opposition. For bigger games, the video sessions would last longer and there would be Skype meetings with his coach as well.
Dedication is not the only thing you need to succeed as a quarterback, as Ehrenfried recognizes that his understanding of the game and his understanding of the weak points of opposing defenses helped him throw for 22,352 yards and 267 touchdowns during his career, with only 57 interceptions (Source: American Football International). Other traits that helped him succeed were his coachability and his eagerness to learn the nuances of the game of football.
To further understand Ehrenfried’s success, I got in touch with his coach, Jordan Neuman, to get a “view from the sidelines” on what set Marco apart from other home-grown quarterbacks.
“What was very special about him was that no matter what the situation, he always found a way to make a play in the biggest moments to get us the win,” recalled Neuman. “Marco had a very special ability to block everything out that was going on around him and continue to stay calm. Along with that, he was a very hard worker and was one of those guys you knew was doing everything he could to be the best football player he could possibly be.”
Neuman, who coached the Vienna Vikings in 2012 and 2013, puts Ehrenfried’s name next to that of Christoph Gross, the Austrian quarterback who won 2 Austrian Bowls and 1 Eurobowl. Neuman spoke of Ehrenfried and Gross as the best European quarterbacks to ever play the game.
When asked to compare the two, Neuman immediately pointed out that “both quarterbacks worked very hard to be the best they could be. This meant that off the field they were studying film and working out, and these were the guys who were always at practice.” According to Neuman, Ehrenfried and Gross had a very different style of play, but they were both natural throwers of the football.
Asked about the advantages given by having a home-grown quarterback, the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns’ head coach highlighted the fact that “you have your quarterback year-round in the program. You can work with them in the offseason and they are able to work and be around their teammates all year long”.
The careers of Marco Ehrenfried, Gross, Monardi, Durand, and Hermodsson show that it is possible to develop a successful home-grown quarterback in Europe. However, if you want to become a starting quarterback in one of the top divisions, you have to be willing to put in the time to develop and to continue improving over time.
Enrico Brazzi is an Italian translator and contributor from Imola, Italy. In 2002, at the age of 16, he established the Imola Hawkies (now Imola Ravens) to bring American football back to his hometown. He was the starting quarterback for the Ravens between 2002 and 2016, meanwhile coaching their Junior teams between 2008 and 2017. He currently lives in London, England.