New look Braunschweig New Yorker Lions look to defend their title with young local talent

They say the march of time wears on both the prince and the pauper. In 2021, even undefeated reigning GFL champions are feeling the harsh bite of change.

Back in 2019, the Braunschweig New Yorker Lions verged on unstoppable as they reclaimed the German Bowl. Running back Chris McClendon ran roughshod over opponents to the tune of 1,984 yards and 24 touchdown. Dual threat quarterback Brandon Conette ran for 17 of his own and throw 24 more. Basil Jackson, Roni Salonen, Jamaal White and Patrick Finke dazzled on defense.

All are now gone. In fact, few stars remain from the team that dominated Germany two years ago.

There is no more David McCants in the return game or Micky Kyei in the slot. Tissi Robinson and Lars Steffen no longer roam the defense. Big defensive tackle Evans Yeboah and receiver Nicolai Schumann now hang their hats in the rival ELF, while Tim Unger is in Austria. Also gone is all-time leading scorer Tobias Goebel, defensive back Benjamin Barnes, linebacker Jonathan Falk and more.

To replace this massive turnover, Germany’s top team has opted to start the season by leaning on talented young German talent. Only four players on the Lions‘ opening day roster hail from abroad, with returning French tight end Robin Sebeille the only one from elsewhere in Europe.

Leading the American import contingent is quarterback Jake Kennedy. A former three-year starter for Wittenberg University, the Springfield, Ohio native is no stranger to Europe after playing for the Graz Giants in 2019. While the Lions rode a dynamic ground game to victory last time they were on the field, Kennedy will provide an improved aerial attack after posting 2,581 yards and 36 touchdowns in Austria.

That means a veteran corps of German receivers will have to step up for Braunschweig. Top target Christian Bollmann is one of the few impact playmakers remaining, hoping to build on his 605 yards and 8 touchdowns from 2019. Young Justus Holtz is expected to take a big step forward as well, while the X-factor is likely to be Paul Bogdann, who missed most of his last campaign with a serious injury.

While each of those player will be crucial to success, all-around import weapon Exavier Edwards is expected to eat up a lot of touches. The Midland University product had four touchdowns, 13 tackles and three pass breakups in three games for the Thonon Black Panthers of France before the pandemic struck and can contribute at running back, receiver and defensive back while creating magic as a returner.

Defensively, new faces will do a lot of heavy lifting with some veteran leadership to lean on. 31-year-old linebacker David Müller is expected to see his role expand, as will big Georg Burmeister, but a pair of returning GFL All-Stars will be crucial to success. Reliable defensive back Benjamin Krahl will continue to anchor the secondary and 24-year-old Samuel Kargel has not yet reached his prime despite a four sack season in 2019.

Joining that group is import defensive back Da’Shawn Benton of East Carolina University. A versatile defender who can play any role in the secondary, Benton has pro experience in the AAF and XFL, but fell into the Lions’ lap after the GFL 2 Biberach Beavers withdrew from the season. With fewer Americans at their disposal than ever, the star ballhawk’s Division One pedigree is massively important.

With such an overhaul of the roster, it’s anybody’s guess whether the New Yorker Lions can continue their year perennial success this season, but the guidance of head coach Troy Tomlin and defensive coordinator Dave Likins will be the great elevator. Young players will step up and emerge as stars for the next decade, with our first glimpse coming this Saturday.

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.