WR/RB Talib Wise (C) comes back for a third season with the SWARCO Raiders
"The year changes. The goal does not." That's the saying in the SWARCO Raiders locker room. This goal is to win as many championships as possible. Since 2004 The Oakland Raiders' sister-team has won seven titles in three different competitions. No wonder the Tyroleans are entering the 2013 season with high expectations, yet again.
On March 23 the SWARCO Raiders start their quest for a fourth Austrian Football League (AFL) title when they host the JCL Giants Graz at Tivoli Stadium (5:15 a.m. PT/2:15 p.m. CET). They will also play in the European Football League (EFL), where they have won three Eurobowls since 2008.
"Expectations are always high here", said SWARCO Raiders head coach Shuan Fatah, who enters his third season in Innsbruck. "You learn to live with that pressure. This is the reason we all put so much energy, time and passion into what we do".
Although the team did not win a title last season it would be an overstatement to say 2012 was a disappointment. The Tyroleans played for the national championship in Austrian Bowl XXVIII and reached the Eurobowl semifinals.
But the fact that they missed out on a chance to add another shiny trophy to their trophy case drives players and coaches. One of them is Talib Wise. The Chicago native comes back for a third straight season with a chip on his shoulder. "This season is personal", he said after signing a new deal. "I came back to make sure the SWARCO Raiders get back to where they belong. To the top".
Playing running back, wide receiver, returner and defensive back Wise is a critical part of the SWARCO Raiders. Last season Wise took the young team on his back during the playoffs. Of the team's 792 total yards and 12 touchdowns in the 2012 AFL playoffs Wise was responsible for 9 touchdowns and 626 yards.
To make sure the team has a little extra experience and help this season the Tyroleans signed Jaycen Taylor. The University of Purdue product, who played in Italy the previous two seasons, will also line up as running back or wide receiver and will play on special teams and defense. No wonder his new head coach calls him a "younger version of Talib".
"Jaycen is an all-round talent. I expect him to play a big role in our offense", said Fatah. "Rules have it that we only can play two import players per game. So we decided to strengthen our offense this season. Signing Jaycen assures us of always having another offensive weapon besides quarterback Kyle Callahan out there. Plus it gives us the chance to rest Talib at times".
Wise welcomes the newest member of the SWARCO Raiders family. "I get along very well with Jaycen", said Wise. "I welcome another threat on the field. He will take some pressure off me. I think he's a good teammate, he works hard. Of course he's the new guy in town so I have to welcome him to the Tyrolean lifestyle".
Being the new kid in town Taylor is learning a lot – on and off the field. "My first impression of the city of Innsbruck? Cold", he smiled. "From what I saw so far it's a beautiful city. The scenery is very nice. But I haven't had much time to check out the city and Tyrol. I'm busy learning the new offense. It's the first time I work in that kind of offense. I also have to get to know all my new teammates. It's not easy getting all the names down".
He has a few more days to soak in sights, names and the playbook before the SWARCO Raiders will head to Bozen, Italy, for a three-day camp this upcoming weekend.
When they come back to Innsbruck the focus will shift towards their season-opener. Graz is a talented team that reached the AFL semifinals last season. But Taylor knows that the Giants are just the first piece of the 2013 puzzle: "I came here to win every game". Seems like he's learning fast…
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