The Swiss Nationalliga A, NLA, kicks off its 34th season this weekend with six teams vying for the title that the Calanda Broncos are beginning to think belongs to them.
Calanda has reached the title game every year since 2008 and won it eight times including the last two years.
This year , the Geneva Seahawks, who were 2018 finalists, and Bern Grizzlies look like legitimate challengers for the throne. However, almost every team in the league has undergone some changes.
Basel Gladiators (2018: 2-8)
Head coach Robin Haas is looking for the Gladiators to rebound from a dismal 2018 season which saw the team win only two games, both against the last place Luzern Lions. With an offense that averaged 23.5 points a game, the first thing Haas did was sign Bo Coleman as his new quarterback. Coleman, a 6′, 192 lb native of Albuquerque, New Mexico was a two year starter for Fort Lewis College (NCAA Div. 2, Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference). He finished his career with 2,577 yards passing and 24 touchdowns while rushing for 914 yards and another 14 touchdowns. In his junior season, he averaged 196.3 yards of total offense per game. In his two years starting for the Skyhawks, he led them to a 9-13 record overall. Haas also added Deandre Williams (Missouri State) who played last year for Silesia in Poland and can play on both sides of the ball at receiver and defensive back.
The Gladiators have reached the Swiss Bowl six times since 2010 but only won the title once, in 2017.
Bern Grizzlies 2018: (2018: 7-3 Semifinalists)
Under new head coach Wayne Jacobs, the Grizzlies, who finished second in the Swiss Nationalliga A but were eliminated in the semifinals by the Geneva Seahawks, are aiming to regain the title they last held in 2016. Jacobs has signed quarterback TJ Gordon (College of Idaho Yotes) along with Belgian offensive lineman Gert Nelissen and Hungarian Marton Hadzsi.
Calanda Broncos (2018: 10-0, Champions)
Head coach Geoff Buffum is entering his sixth season with the Calanda Broncos and his fifth in a row (he guided the Broncos to the Swiss title in 2012). The Broncos have reached the final every year under his tenure and won three of four (2015, 2017 & 2018). He has made a couple of key changes for the 2019 season including the signing of Georgia State QB Conner Manning and former New Yorker Lions defensive lineman Robert Kitching ((UMass, NCAA Div. I, FBS). The 6’1″, 205 lb, 24 year old Manning from Lake Forest, California was a two-year starter at quarterback for the Panthers and a two-time All-Sun Belt honoree. He passed for 5,830 yards and 30 touchdowns in 22 games for the Panthers. He is the second leading quarterback in GSU history with 566 completions on 776 attempts, a 60.1 completion percentage.
He also moved Nicolay Knutsen into the defensive coordinator spot. Another key addition is Lauri Vainio from Finland (played for Berlin Rebels in 2018). Top returnees include RB Tino Muggwyler, LB Kai Takahashi, and LB Marco Mahrer.
Geneva Seahawks (2018: 6-4, Finalists)
Under the guidance of head coach Larry Legault and a 2018 season that saw the Geneva Seahawks reach the Swiss Bowl for the first time since 1996, expectations are high. However, the road forward will feature a squad with many new faces. The off-season turnover includes the departure of 20 players including the retirement of regular contributors such as defensive backs Nicolas Zavadil, Dan Martin, and Vince Cottier, linebacker Gael Jimenez, receiver Timon Meynard, defensive end Saidi Houssem and running back Michael Noue. Newly arrived veterans such as Wilson Idemudia (DB) and Franck Galvin (DB) will fill the void in the secondary while in other spots many fresh young faces are expected to step up. At the QB position, the team will count on the services of import Canadian Kyle Graves(Acadia University) who will also handle the punting duties.”
Luzern Lions (2018: 0-10)
The Luzern Lions are returning from a winless season in the Swiss top league which forced them to play a relegation playoff round against the Zurich Renegades which they won 17-15. New head coach Sebastian Fandert bolstered the offense by signing Brad Jones who played/coached with the Warsaw Sharks in 2018. Fandert also brought in speedy wide receiver/defensive back Felix Durand and DL/OL Max Malander from Sweden.
Winterthur Warriors (2018: 5-5, Semifinalists)
The Warriors under new head coach Guillermo Daruich, from Mexico have signed Spenser Lewis (Ottawa University) as their new quarterback. They have also added a pair of British offensive linemen, Craig Oliphant and Lewis O’Brian. With a roster of 48, Winterthur has replenished from within bringing up a number of young, talented Swiss players. Leon Simioni will start at running back while Joel Muntwyler is the new middle linebacker. Both are products of the Winterthur youth program with Simioni in his first season on the senior team and Muntwyler entering his second year.