*Photo: Devcon5/Marc Miller
It's that time of the year again. While The Oakland Raiders roam the free agent market in search for new players and get ready for the upcoming draft, the football season in Europe is about to start. This Sunday the SWARCO Raiders Tyrol, long-time friends of The Oakland Raiders, open the 2014 Austrian Football League (AFL) season with a road game at their nemesis, Raiffeisen Vikings Vienna.
Since 2008 the three-time Super Bowl champion and their marketing teammate from Innsbruck, Austria, have shared a unique cooperation. And come Sunday, Raiders fans all over the globe will follow the SWARCO Raiders Tyrol through their 2014 campaign as Oakland's "sister team" will try to win its first championship since 2011.
The team is led by Shuan Fatah, who became the head coach in 2011. And after winning the Austrian Bowl and the Eurobowl in his very first season in Tyrol and reaching three more finals over the last two years Fatah was awarded a new three-year deal this past summer. The contract might be new, but the goals stay the same. "We go into every season with high expectations", said Fatah. "Of course we will try to add some awards to our trophy case this year."
In order to accomplish that goal, Fatah has decided to bring a new quarterback to Innsbruck: "We want to give our offense a new face at the quarterback position. A wind of change will do our offense good. And thankfully we found the right guy for the job."
That guy is John van den Raadt. After setting numeral records at Azusa Pacific University, where he played from 2008-2011, the Mira Loma, California, native played in France in 2013. In his first season in Europe he went undefeated and led the Falcons de Bron-Villeurbanne to a Division III championship.
Looking for a new challenge in Europe, van den Raadt impressed the SWARCO Raiders coaching staff and was signed in mid-January. "I decided to sign with the SWARCO Raiders, because it is a great opportunity to play the game I love. I also think it is a great opportunity to see the world and meet new people from a different culture," van den Raadt explained.
After arriving in Innsbruck a few weeks ago van den Raadt got to know his new teammates during three mini camps, which were held over the last weeks. "I feel like we had great camps as a team and we all made some necessary improvements," the 24-year old quarterback said. "The offensive line is awesome. It's a great group of guys who like to work hard and the receivers also have a great work ethic. Our offense is getting better each practice and we are going to continue to strive for that goal week after week."
Fatah also likes what he sees from his new signal caller. "John has a great awareness, understands the game well and he possesses a strong arm," explained the head coach. "But his true strength is his running ability."
Although the SWARCO Raiders have a new quarterback and added some other pieces to the puzzle, former quarterback Kyle Callahan is still with the team. "Kyle was a great receiver in college," said Fatah. "That's why we decided to make him our wide receivers coach. He also will play in the BIG6 games."
The BIG6 is the new top-tournament in Europe, formerly known as European Football League. The best six teams in Europe will play for the European crown. And while the AFL allows only one active import player for a game, teams can play more imports in the BIG6. "That's why it is so important to have Kyle here," Fatah mentioned. "Not only is he our backup option at quarterback. He gives our offense another dimension in the BIG6 competition."
But before the SWARCO Raiders enter the BIG6 tournament in mid-April, they will start into the new AFL season. On Sunday the Tyroleans will play the Vikings in Vienna. It's a re-match of last year's Austrian Bowl and Eurobowl finals and the first real test for van den Raadt and the new SWARCO Raiders offense.
Although kickoff for the game is at 6 a.m. PT (3 p.m. CET), the quarterback has high hopes his family will be watching the game on raidersTV. "I have a really supportive family and I'm sure they will try there hardest to watch all games," said van den Raadt.