This Saturday, October 5, Team Sweden heads to Moscow, Russia to face Team Russia in a 2020 IFAF European Championship qualification round matchup.
Sweden and Russia play in Group A, Division D along with Great Britain.
Sweden finished fourth in the 2018 IFAF European Championships after losing to Finland in the bronze medal game, 35-21. Since then, Billy BD Kennedy has stepped in as the new head coach for the Swedish national team. Kennedy is also head coach for the Carlstad Crusaders in Sweden’s Superserien, and is entering his first national team tournament in almost 15 years. Kennedy served as Team Sweden’s offensive coordinator when the team won the European Championships in 2005 and head coach in 2007.
AFI: You are heading into your first game as Team Sweden’s head coach in almost 15 years. Describe the feeling.
Kennedy: The feeling is really awesome. I have always enjoyed being apart of the national team. It as been a few years, but it is easy to get back into the groove of coaching some of Sweden’s best players. It is always an honor to compete internationally in this great sport.
AFI: The format for the European Championships has changed a lot this year. What are your thoughts?
Kennedy: I think the format is interesting. It seems they have thought about finding out what level everyone is on and I think it is a good idea to set the European Championships up with this qualifying round.
AFI: How much do you know about Team Russia?
Kennedy: Actually, I do not know so much. We have seen some film from a few games a few years ago. My message to our team is that we have to expect to play a group of players that have high expectations and are ready to play. Being able to adjust against what we see will be key for our success.
AFI: You have not had a tryout camp and have a smaller squad for this game. Does that help or will the lack of bench depth be an issue?
Kennedy: That is a challenge for us, but we feel that we have very good players at each position. One of the things I wanted to do going into this qualifying group play was to pick a roster of players that we as a staff feel are solid football players and to keep the cost to the players as low as possible. So, we will have a few players prepared to help out in some areas where we may be a little low in numbers, but the focus and expectation is to get the job done with who we have.
AFI: Your starting quarterback Phil Juhlin is a veteran of international play. Having him as a steadying influence much make a difference.
Kennedy: Absolutely. Phil is a super solid QB and leader. He has a lot of experience in these types of games and it is a big plus to have him. It is nice to have him leading us and the up and coming Dennis Isberg to be a part of these games.
AFI: How much play calling will you allow him on the field?
Kennedy: Phil has a very good understanding of the offense and what we want to do. So he most always has options and decisions to make in regarding to putting us into the best possible play. That is what you want your QB to be, as second coach on the field.
AFI: You’re an Oklahoman, coaching the Swedish national team playing in Russia. That’s a story in itself. Do you ever think about that?
Kennedy: Yes I do. I fell in love with this game a long time ago. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play college football at the small college level and have gotten to experience every level of college football in my coaching career. When I was young, I just wanted to see where football could take me. I never dreamed it would be to Sweden and I would have the opportunity to see the world from the sidelines. I guess I have to blame it on my wife. We were together in the US for several years and she asked about moving back to Sweden. I said I would as long as I could coach football. The rest is history.
AFI: This not the easiest road trip to make. How do you get your team to adjust?
Kennedy: We chose to make it a weekend trip so that no players would miss work on Friday or Monday.This also reduced the overall costs. It is an interesting experience to take a road trip on game day and go from Stockholm to Moscow, land, check in to the hotel, have a meal and go play a game, but it is nothing out of the ordinary. The expectation is that we treat this as a business trip and focus on doing what we need to do in order to win the game.
AFI: Anything else you would like to add?
Kennedy: I look forward to this football adventure. I expect a tough game and a game where we have to play our best to win. It is a great feeling to be apart of the Senior National Team and our expectation is that we can represent the sport of American Football and the country of Sweden in away that make everyone proud.