Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns will lean on German QB Alexander Haupert and an impressive offensive arsenal

The shadow of Marco Ehrenfried still looms large over Schwäbisch Hall, but head coach Jordan Neuman believes he’s found the next great German quarterback.

After losing the 2019 German Bowl despite a dazzling 51 touchdown season from import Jadrian Clark, now of the ELF’s Hamburg Sea Devils, the Unicorns are returning to the formula that saw them make the first five of their six straight title game appearances. It is 26-year old homebrew Alexander Haupert who will be under center in 2021, making the jump from the GFL 2 Saarland Hurricanes.

The national team standout is just one year younger than fellow German Ehrenfried was when he stepped away from the game in 2018, coming off 90 straight starts and back-to-back undefeated championship season for the Unicorns. While no stranger to starting at the GFL level, Haupert will be expected to take a massive leap forward for the GFL South favorites.

Unicorns RB Christian Dietrich finding running room in preseason action Photo: Sarah Philipp

In 2019, Haupert completed 49 of 82 passes for 1119 yards, 17 touchdowns, and four interceptions in nine games for the Hurricanes. Neuman believes strongly the German has more in the tank but any young quarterback requires weapons to succeed and Schwäbisch Hall has acquired those necessary pieces.

Gone is the team’s leading receiver in 2019, Nate Robitaille, but returning is his partner-in-crime Tyler Rutenbeck, who led all pass catchers with 21 touchdowns the last time football was played. The 29-year old former Indianapolis Colt is expected to keep up that high level of play this season and will be joined out wide by 25-year old former Vienna Vikings star Yannick Mayr, who dazzled with 291 yards and five touchdowns in the three game 2020 Austrian season.

Then, of course, there is the weapon everyone is talking about. Former Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals tight end Moritz Böhringer announced his triumphant return to Schwäbisch Hall earlier this year and promises to be the type of transcendent talent rarely seen in Europe. The first player ever drafted by the NFL directly from a European league racked up 1,232 yards and 13 touchdowns when he last donned Unicorns‘ colors. Now with four seasons of NFL training under his belt, the 27-year old will be used everywhere on the field.

While aerial highlights capture the attention, a quarterback’s best friend is said to be a consistent run game. The Unicorns are hardly a team known for their rushing exploits, but that could be different this season. Leading rusher from 2019, Maurice Schüle is back and entering his prime, but North Dakota back John Santiago is now here to lead the attack. With 6,567 all-purpose yards in his collegiate career and CFL and XFL experience, he’s expected to do big things behind an offensive line that still features 2019 GFL All-Stars Robert Hager and Moritz Schreiber.

Defensively, it is a ball-hawking secondary that is primed to make a difference. Veteran import Cody Pastorino is back after a six interception season in 2019 and is joined by a pair of new Americans. The Schwäbisch Hall coaching staff has long coveted the services of former Ottawa Redblack Monteze Latimore and he is finally in the fold, with veteran safety Da’ronte Smith making the jump to the GFL after time in the lower division and in Brazil. Homegrown corner Junior Nkembi is also looking to build off a 2019 season in which he had four interceptions and three kickoff return touchdowns.

The absence of All-Star Goran Zec, now with the ELF’s Wroclaw Panthers, will be managed with a balancing act of six primarily defensive imports, including veteran linebacker Nick Alfieri. Pass rush will also benefit, as standout defensive tackle Devin Benton and his nine sacks in 2019 will now have a complement off the edge in long-time Stuttgart Scorpion Corey Chapman, who had seven of his own. The pair will be aided in the rotation by talented local pass rushers like Alexander Kreß, Simon Butsch and Fauset Masri.

For the last decade, the Unicorns have been the standard of excellence in the GFL South and the expectations have been German Bowl or bust. That hasn’t changed, but the calculated gamble at quarterback and a fascinating defensive rotation should make for the most intriguing season since their run of dominance began.

The Unicorns believe they’ve put together the roster to take back the German crown. Fans and opponents eagerly await the results.

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.