The Turkish American Football League kicks off its 2018 season this weekend as American football keeps growing in popularity in Turkey.
The eight-team league has been dominated in recent years by the Koc Rams who won the title in 2017 and have not lost a regular season game in Turkey since 2012.
The Rams have won the last two championships and with new head coach John Booker are aiming for another title this season with the addition of several imports. The Rams have signed quarterback David Whipple from Miles College along with two Swedish national team players, DB Nicholas Peterson and OL Eric Blomgren.
The 2017 runner ups Sakarya Tatankalari, enter the season aiming for another impressive season. After finishing the regular season with only one loss (to the Rams), they then beat the ITU Hornets in the semifinals only to lose to the Rams in the final. Head coach Cenk Yavuz will look to QB Bilguun Altankhuyag and speedy RB Malcolm Gasque who won the Portuguese title with the Lisbon Devils in 2016 and also played for the Sao Paulo Storm in Brazil’s top league.
The Bogazici Sultans would like to improve on a disappointing 2017 season where they finished out of the playoffs with a 3-4 record. The former powerhouse of the Turkish league (5 titles – 2006, 2009, 2013, 2014, 2015) is coached by Çağatay Baykallı with Serhat Erdem at QB.
The Itu Hornets were the surprise of the Turkish league in 2017 finishing the regular season with a 5-2 record reaching the semifinals. Unfortunately, they were eliminated by Sakarya Tatankalari. Head coach Mansur Yilmaz has signed Turkish QB O. Ateş Akkor. Among Akkor’s targets is 6’4″, 245 lb TE Lucas Hefty (Upper Iowa University , NCAA Div. II). The Hornets have also bolstered their secondary with the addition of defensive back Forrest Jones (Texas A&M KIngsville, NCAA Div. II).
Newcomers to the top league this year are the Anadolu Rangers under head coach Yiğit Mustafa Güney. QB Emre Rifaioglu will lead a young squad.
The Yeditepe Eagles finished the 2017 season in fourth place with a 4-3 record and entered their semifinal as huge underdogs against the unbeaten Koc Rams. However, the Eagles pushed the Rams to the limit and a controversial play in the waning seconds may have cost them a trip to the final. With 26 seconds left, and Yeditepe parked on the Rams four yard line, a fumble somehow ate 26 seconds off the clock, ending the game. Eagles quarterback Austin Stubbs fumbled the ball when attempting to spike it to stop the clock and in the confusion with players scrambling for the ball, no whistle was blown.
The Eagles will likely be hungry to prove they were no fluke. They have signed defensive back Michael James (Alderson Broaddus University).
Although the ODTÜ Falcons finished with a 2-5 record and out of the playoffs in 2017, they are intent on improving this year. ODTÜ has signed linebacker Juan Rozier (Shaw University, NCAA Div. II) and defensive back Bryant Hayes (Utah State, NCAA Div. I) who played for Italian semifinalist the Bolzano Giants in 2017.
The Uludag Timsahlar (Crocodiles) are the other new team to the top league in Turkey.