QB Kyle Callahan threw 19 touchdowns last season (Photo: Schellhorn)
While the NFL is in the middle of its offseason the new football season starts in Austria where The Oakland Raiders sister-team, the SWARCO Raiders are from. The Tyroleans open the 2013 Austrian Football League (AFL) season at home against the JCL Giants Graz on Saturday, March 23. Kickoff at Tivoli Stadium is at 6:15 a.m. PT (2:15 p.m. CET).
After going through two mini camps and a training camp SWARCO Raiders head coach Shuan Fatah thinks his team is ready. "We can't wait to play in our stadium in front of our fans", Fatah said. "To open the season against Graz is a huge challenge, yet also a big chance".
While the overall comparison of these two teams is almost evened out, the SWARCO Raiders have dominated the series in recent years. Overall the teams have met 28 times in the AFL and the European Football League (EFL). The SWARCO Raiders have won 15 of those games while Graz has won 13 times. But six of the last seven meetings ended with a SWARCO Raiders victory.
Last season the Tyroleans beat the Giants three times. First they have won 33-0 at home. Then they beat the Giants 21-20 on the road. They also came out on top in a 48-42 shootout in the playoff semifinals.
The SWARCO Raiders offense is led by QB Kyle Callahan, who comes back for a third straight season. Last year against Graz he completed 31 of 53 passes for 567 yards with 6 touchdowns and two interceptions in three contests. He also ran the ball 28 times for 171 yards and a touchdown and caught a 6-yard touchdown pass on a trick play.
Callahan's overall numbers (AFL regular season plus playoffs) last season were also impressive. He completed 127 of 216 passes for 2,029 yards with 19 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. He also led his team with 499 yards on 78 rushes and scored seven times on the ground. He added the before mentioned touchdown catch. His 2,528 total yards from scrimmage were the league's third-highest total.
WR/RB Talib Wise also comes back for a third straight season. Although he played in only one game against Graz he left quite an impression. In the AFL semifinals Wise had 22 rushes for 168 yards with 3 touchdowns and caught two passes for 81 yards and a score. Due to the league's import rule that allows only two active import players per game Wise played in only six AFL contests in 2012. Still he managed to carry the ball 56 times for 334 yards with 7 touchdowns. He also caught 17 passes for 425 yards and 4 touchdowns.
The SWARCO Raiders also relied on their young Tyrolean receiving corps. WR Julian Ebner led the team with 32 catches for 461 yards and 5 touchdowns. WR Damaso Tarneller caught 33 balls for 375 yards with 3 scores. WR Clemens Erlsbacher hauled in 18 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns. WR Christian Willi caught 13 balls for 227 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The team decided to add some extra firepower to their offense this season and signed RB/WR Jaycen Taylor. The Purdue University product led the Parma Panthers to the Italian championship the last two season. He gained 2,932 yards on 344 carries and scored 44 rushing touchdowns in two seasons in Italy. He also caught 34 passes for 364 yards and 4 touchdowns. In Tyrol he will share the backfield with RB Andreas Hofbauer and RB Lukas Miribung. In 2012 Hofbauer had 76 rushes for 291 yards and 8 touchdowns in the AFL. Miribung had 22 carries for 111 yards and 4 scores.
On defense two players stood out in the three games against Graz last year. LB Philipp Margreiter had a total of 18.5 tackles and forced a fumble. LB Florian Hueter had 17.5 tackles. Overall Margreiter led his team with 58.5 tackles (41 solo) on the season. He also had 7.5 tackles for loss, a sack, two interceptions, a forced and a recovered fumble. He also scored on a blocked punt return. Hueter was second on the team with 46 tackles (31 solo) and an interception. LB Christoph Schilcher had 40.5 tackles (31 solo), forced and recovered a fumble and also caught an interception.
The Giants rely heavily on three offensive weapons: new QB Alex Good, RB Alex Gross and WR Armando Ponce de Leon. While playing for the Berlin Adler in Germany in 2012 Good completed 188 of 281 passes for 2,271 yards with 18 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He also led his team with 187 rushes for 1,253 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Gross had 114 carries for 802 yards and 13 touchdowns in the AFL. Ponce de Leon led his team with 56 catches for 881 yards and 11 touchdowns. WR Philipp Sommer was second with 30 catches for 387 yards and 3 scores. And WR Max Taurer had 19 catches for 296 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Gross also excelled on defense. Playing linebacker he led the league with 85.5 tackles (65 solo) and 21 tackles for loss. He also had 3.5 sacks, forced two fumbles and recovered one. DB Christoph Schreiner had 34.5 tackles (21 solo). DB Christof Promitzer caught 3 of his team's 7 interceptions.
Watch the SWARCO Raiders 2012 season live and as-live for free onwww.raidersTV.at.