Swarco Raiders QB Sean Shelton helping lead new chapter with same high expectations

When Sean Shelton first arrived in Europe in 2014 to play for the Templiers d’Elancourt, the former William Jewell quarterback set a goal for himself.

“I quickly decided that this could be cool, let me just try to get to the most professional level of Europe,” Shelton recalls. “And the one name that kept coming up from everybody I talked to was the Swarco Raiders.”

It was almost serendipitous then when an injury to the incumbent starter brought him to the Helsinki Roosters that first summer, where he would room with two former Raiders players. They got him the connection and seven years later, Shelton still calls Innsbruck home.

Why choose to stay in one place while so many other imports lead a nomadic existence? There is a simple explanation.

“I guess the short answer would be meeting a woman,” Shelton says with a smile.

Photo: Florian Mitteregger

Of course, there was more to the decision than that though. The Raiders lived up to their billing as one of Europe’s premier teams with a sound organizational structure, full-time administrators and now a brand new multi-million dollar facility that surpasses anything Shelton had in Division II. That level of excellence is what the Palm Harbor, Florida native has always wanted.

“I never liked the lack of stability of an import life. That was not something that was really attractive to me in any way, shape or form. I wasn’t here to travel per se, although I enjoy traveling. I wasn’t here to live a certain lifestyle. I was here to play football at a high level,” Shelton explains.

“Innsbruck was kind of a perfect storm of a very nice place to live, meeting your future wife and having the career that at that point you were dreaming of.”

Sean Shelton holds quarterbacking clinic talk

Settling down has come with plenty of perks, a couple of championships and a reputation as Austria’s top passer over the last decade, but even the Raiders couldn’t protect Shelton from the turmoil of COVID-19. Following the postponement of the Austrian season, the team from Tirol opted not to take part in a shortened fall campaign in 2020.

“Obviously that was kind of an emotional rollercoaster, but I think the Raiders did a great job of stepping back and realizing what the circumstance was and that the entire world had been affected by something that nobody’s had foreseen,” Shelton says. “Football was not on the priority list of importance at that point.”

A pregnant wife made taking time off from the game a little easier, but by the summer Shelton’s competitive fire was in need of quenching. When the Raiders take the field against the Graz Giants on Saturday, it will be their first action in 18 months and under new head coach Kevin Herron, the 2019 Austrian champs look entirely different.

“It’s kind of a new chapter of the Raiders. I’ve been able to be a part of two generations of the Raiders, not necessarily playing wise but from a coaching staff standpoint. There’s a lot of new faces and a lot of different positions,” Shelton remarks.

“That’s inherently exciting because it will be a completely new chapter and a completely new challenge from any other season that I’ve played prior.”

 

Sean Shelton coaching Swarco Raiders youth team

The same championship expectations remain regardless of who is wearing a Raiders uniform and Shelton has played a role in setting that high mark of excellence, both on and off the field. For the past four years, he’s coached with Swarco’s youth program, forming the next generation of Austrian champions. Some of them are already making the jump.

“I started working with them when they were 14 and now they’re 18 and we have a couple of those guys who are actually playing at the men’s level this year. That’s a pretty good indicator that you’ve been around for a while,” Shelton chuckles.

“It’s also really cool because it’s like seeing your baby cousin grow up or something like that. It’s a proud moment for me as well.”

While the reputation of the Raiders is what brought Shelton to Tirol seven years ago, the club only improves with each season he stands under center or wears a coach’s hat.

Unfortunately for the rest of Austria, he’s not leaving any time soon.

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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.
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