The European Football League has flown under the radar for a little while when it comes to American Viewership. But in a day and age where streaming services make all sports more accessible, it is easier than ever before to watch the ELF. With that being said, there are also many reasons to watch. In this series, we will be highlighting the American Born players who currently play over in the ELF.
I have decided to start with the expansion team the Vienna Vikings. Vienna finds itself in the ELF, after spending many years in the Austrian Football League. They ruled the AFL in a dominant fashion for many years. They were founded in 1983, and just three years into their existence they were appearing in their first championship game.
In 1994 the team started an impressive run with their first Championship game victory. Over the next three decades in which they collected fifteen AFL titles, including five straight wins from 1999-2003, and three straight from 2012-2014. They appeared in 8 bowl games from the time they were formed in 1983 to 1999. All of which were played against the Graz Giants. The thing is, their run didn’t stop in 1999. They were only just beginning.
This began their five-year stretch of victories and would round out a sixteen-year stretch of appearing in the AFL Championship game. The team also competed in and won the Eurobowl from 2004-2007, and again in 2013. Now after an insane run of success, the Vikings have decided to take their talents to the next level.
In doing so it modified the roster requirements and allowed them to pursue American-born players. This would result in 7 American-born players landing on the Viking’s roster. I was able to speak with five of the 7 players to gain some unique insight into their experiences with the league. Ironically the two that never replied are both currently on the injured reserve list.
Jackson Erdman, Quarterback
The Vikings wanted to target a talented American for their quarterback position. Who better than Jackson Erdman who was fresh off of a People’s Championship Victory in year 1 with the Wild Aces of the Fan Controlled Football League?
Erdman when asked what led him to the ELF: “I came to the ELF because I’ve always wanted to come to Europe to play football if I didn’t make it in the NFL. As soon as I had the first phone call with coach Calaycay I knew I wanted to play for him and it was a great fit. I’m lucky to be here in Vienna!”
There are some adjustments to be made by any person moving from one country to another. This was no different for Erdman. In fact, it may have been more difficult given his position of quarterback. Despite this, he says: “The biggest adjustment for me playing in Europe is being away from home and in a new country. I’ve never been to Europe before, but I am absolutely loving it.”
A lot of times we see players who play arena football get passed over due to their background. When asked if putting outdoor football film out was the draw to joining the ELF, Jackson with all the confidence in his abilities says: “I wouldn’t say playing outdoors is crucial to put on tape for me.. being from MN people know I can play in the cold. Also, the speed of the game is more important.”
To be a championship quarterback you have to overcome all odds, and Jackson is no stranger to these challenges. When asked what it’s like being on an expansion team with such a powerful legacy of winning Erdman replies “It’s a lot of firsts for me here. First time in ELF, in Europe, Vikings first time in ELF. I approach it the same as I always do. Tune out the outside noise and control what I can control.”
Left with one final question, Jackson gave his honest opinion when asked if he would recommend the ELF to other players chasing their football dreams.” Depends on who I’m recommending to play in the ELF. But what I do know is that it’s great competition over here and is very well run from my experience so far”
Luckily for Jackson Erdman, he isn’t the only American on the offensive side of the ball and actually has a wide receiver to lean on by the name of #6 Mike Breuler.
Mike Breuler, Wide Receiver
Breuler didn’t come to the ELF with the fanfare or reputation that Erdman had. What he lacked in name recognition, he made up for in, prototypical size for the receiver position. At 6’2 200 lbs, the Vikings got a solid option at the X receiver slot.
The 27-year-old wideout was nearly unstoppable as a senior in college. In just 9 games Breuler was able to rack up an astronomical 87 receptions for 1,172 yards and 10 touchdowns. Last season for the Potsdam Royals Breuler managed 174 yards and 2 touchdowns in 3 games.
When asked Breuler points to inspiring others as his motivation for heading overseas to play football. “My decision was made with a great support system. My family and teammate Toby Lettman knew that if we were to go play in Europe, we wanted to go to a top organization. The decision was made purely out of selflessness to give my family and friends a vision to chase dreams. As Being full of optimism and hope keeps us driven.”
Curious about what drove him to pursue the European game with multiple spring leagues starting in the U.S. I asked: Do you believe the ELF offers better opportunities than the fledgling spring leagues in the US?
He would reply “The ELF offers a great opportunity for those getting overlooked in the start. To be in front of a stage, that only in its second year has become a spectacle for American Football in Europe. I think the hopes are for it compete with viewership in the states and bring light to European players, and Americans willing to try something new and exciting overseas.”
What does it mean to you to join a team with such a storied history coming from the AFL as an expansion team? “Well that’s just it, this team’s rich history and ability to lead in character, professionalism, and offer a sense of family is exactly why myself and Toby Lettman hopped on a plane within a few days’ notice. Absolutely, it means a lot to myself to be part of the new history being written.”
When asked if the ELF offers better stability than US spring football leagues, Michael pulls no punches. “I think the ELF with offers more growth and stability than any other European League. The USFL is in its first season, and I am sure it has its growing pains. The XFL is building off a serious foundation, and being led by of the most Iconic men in today’s world. I think it will be in a class of its own! The ELF without a doubt offers a lot of stability but as far as more or less, we will have to see as it continues to grow. Stability is categorized by organization skills, payment to players, exposure for players, and consistency. I am sure it will continue to grow and meet all expectations.”
When asked if he had any suggestions to help grow the league’s American viewership: “I think a great suggestion would be giving the players the ability to get their friends and family game passes and an easy way to view our games. As well as targeting mainstream media, and sponsorships!
Blake Nelson, Linebacker/Fullback
Moving on to a man who can play a bit of everything on the football field, and a guy who I immediately became a fan of from his college career, Blake Nelson who graduated from Colorado-Mesa University. Nelson is listed as a defensive end, but can play tight end, running back/full back, linebacker, and contributes on special teams.
What led you to the ELF to continue your football career? “The chance to play football at a high level led me to the ELF. I took a year off of football in 2021, and I missed the game so much. When the Vikings gave me an opportunity to play I couldn’t pass it up.
In your opinion why was the ELF a better opportunity than perhaps other smaller leagues America has to offer? “I chose the ELF over pursuing other American leagues because I knew how competitive this league is and I wanted to be a part of this new league that has given the chance for great players to showcase their abilities on a big stage. And the chance to travel around Europe while playing is a dream come true.
Your versatility is nearly unrivaled, what has driven you to play so many different positions on the football field? “My versatility comes from me wanting to do whatever it takes to help my team win, so playing whatever position that is needed is what I will do. I grew up playing corner and safety and so I still feel like I carry some of that ability even though I have played more defensive line in recent years.”
Do you think positionless players or those that can fill many roles are more valued overseas due to the roster restrictions they face? “I do believe players who can play multiple positions are very much valued overseas. Teams make big investments into each important player and if that player can be utilized in many different ways to help their team win, then those players will be looked at much more I believe.”
Cody Smith, Defensive Back
Cody Smith has a very unique story when it comes to his football journey. In 2022, he signed with the Vienna Vikings less than a week before game 1. Three weeks later he finds himself undefeated with the Vikings. The odd part about his journey? He played in the LFA this season as well, the premier Mexican Football League.
Cody went from Mexico, nearly straight to Europe to continue playing football and getting more tape out there in 2022. He had only three weeks to recover between the end of his LFA season, and the beginning of his ELF season.
What led you to the ELF in 2022? “I’ve been playing in Europe for a long time. I always knew a league like the ELF was feasible but just needed the right exposure and people to run it. Once I saw the season kickoff last year I knew I had to get involved. The ELF will be one of the top leagues in the world for a very long time and I wanted to make sure I was a part of that growth. “
How did this opportunity come about? “Well, I am in a bit of a unique situation because I have a business I run back home. The Vienna Vikings reached out to me a little while back about playing for them, but I told them I would only be available for a few weeks (playoffs/injury) at a time. Vienna got raddled with injuries and was starting off the season against 2 of the top teams in Europe, so here I am. Now 1-0 and working on being 2-0 this week vs. Frankfurt. Vienna Vikings have been first class bottom to top and I believe we have a real shot at winning this championship.”
What benefit do you see to continuing your career overseas versus other options in the States? “I’ve played all over the world and watched these start-up leagues in the States consistently come and go. The opportunities in Europe are widely overlooked and with the help of the ELF’s audience exploding I think more and more people will be drawn to it. The talent has always been there, but now there’s finally a structure to support it.”
Do you believe spreading football worldwide is crucial to the survival of all these leagues springing up? “I think so. American Football is the greatest game in the world, but people need to see it live to really get a feel for how awesome the game truly is. It can be difficult for people who have never seen the game to understand all the rules, but once it’s more present worldwide people will be more inclined to try to sit down and really understand the sport. Once they do… it will EXPLODE.”
Ultimately Cody will have to return home for a little while to make sure his business is still running smoothly but aims to return to the ELF for the Playoff run, which they have already somehow sealed a berth in after just three weeks. Smith is hoping his teammates can keep the ship afloat during his absence. The man he was playing in place of, Edwards has returned from the injured list.
Exavier Edwards, Safety/Running Back/Returner
Edwards attended Midland University from 2016-2018. He ultimately would move on to the Odtu Falcons in the 2018 season his first experience as a professional player. The team would win 6 games in 2018.
Edwards has bounced his way around the different leagues that Europe has to offer, and in that time spent time on both sides of the ball as a running back and a free safety. As stated above an important trait of most of these American players is versatility because it allows the team to maximize their limited spots for American Nationals.
Luckily for Edwards, the Vikings have been extremely clever in roster building, and value his ability as a safety, and the fact that in a pinch he can add value to the running back position as well. Primarily playing defense he is traditionally the starter but due to his injury, Cody Smith had been brought in to play in his absence.
Edwards in an interview with American Football International had this to say about joining the Vikings for the 2022 season: “I personally picked the Vikings because I love loyalty in the whole organization, and I’ve simply heard nothing but good news about the Vienna Vikings. I already have a good relationship with the coaches but the most important part to me is to lead this team to a championship culture and of course meeting my new teammates. They will be my brothers and I can’t wait to go to war with them. I’m very excited about our team and I can’t wait for the 2022 season.”
Edwards joins the Vikings after an amazing season in the German Football League playing on both sides of the ball…AND special teams. The Vikings believe in maximizing those roster spots for Americans. Edwards had an unbelievable season in 2021 racking up just under 1,200 all-purpose yards, and 11 touchdowns, he also contributed 9 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery.
Not a bad pick-up to round out the back end of your roster. Edwards has been tabbed as a free safety for the Vikings this season and he will look to showcase the playmaking ability that he flashed in limited snaps on defense last season.
Benjamin Straight, Defensive Back
Hardcore European Football fans will see this name on the list and argue that he is a national player. You would be correct, he is in fact considered a national player. However, Benjamin was born in the United States. His time in America was short he moved to Austria with his family at 2 years old.
However, I still was able to talk to Benjamin and get his unique perspective on this league as well. “I believe the ELF is a great opportunity for European players to get noticed by the CFL, USFL, XFL, or maybe even the NFL. It’s hard for European players to compete in a US spring league since most of the players have a 40h a week job and they can’t just quit for a couple of months.”
What does it mean to you to join a team like Vienna that has such a storied legacy in the AFL?
“It means a lot to me! I always want to compete on the highest level of football and for the Vikings to take the next logical step and join the league was a great opportunity for me! And to do that with my brothers that I have played with the last couple of years is amazing!”
Do you think the ELF offers more stability than the USFL or XFL?
“The interest in the league is extremely high and I think time will tell how stable the ELF is compared to the XFL or USFL. I think it has a lot of potential to be established as the main professional league in Europe than it already is in my eyes.”
Do you have any suggestions for the league to draw in the American Audience?
“I think articles like this one are a great way to draw more attention to the ELF. Highlighting American players, and telling their story about how they ended up playing in Europe.”
What are your long-term goals in football? Are the CFL, USFL, XFL, or NFL in your future?
“I always try to stay focused on the goal ahead of me which is getting a ring at the end of the ELF season. I will continue to grind and give it my all and the rest will take care of itself.”
Weston Carr, Wide Receiver
I was, unfortunately, unable to get ahold of Carr for comment on this article. However, if you’re looking for an American player to latch onto…Carr might be your guy. The 6’2 200 lb receiver was named to the AFI’s All Europe Team. He was the sole receiver that stood apart in the GFL.
He helped lead his team to the 2021 GFL Championship game on the strength of a 1,318-yard 15 touchdown season. He would go on to be named to the GFL All-Star team as well. In the Championship game, Carr went off.
With video-game-like numbers, 18 receptions for 355 yards and 6 touchdowns in a single GAME. His coach once said this about him in an AFI interview: “Weston is a true difference-maker, he is capable of taking over a game at any given moment. He leads by example on and off the field and lets his game do the talking. Despite his on-field success and crazy production he is the most humble guy in the building and a true team-first player.”
A former Division II receiver in the United States, Carr is another example of what happens when these unheralded Division II and III all-stars get their opportunities at the professional level. If there is one player that stands out and should get CFL, or XFL interest it is none other than Weston Carr. Carr reminds me a lot of Jerry Rice. He’s tall, but thin, quick, but not overly fast. Regardless of the measurables, one thing is for sure, Carr is a baller.
Final Word on the Vienna Vikings:
At this stage of the ELF season, the Vikings have already begun to set themselves apart in their first season. Currently, they are tied for the best record in the league at 4-0 with Barcelona Dragons. They are on top of the Central Division and currently have already clinched a playoff berth.
With a playoff berth in their back pocket this quickly, the Vikings can put their focus on sealing up the top seed in their division, and they hope the league. Given that the second-place team in the Central division is the 2-2 Frankfurt Galaxy, the Vikings seem to have the inside track to the top seed with ten weeks left to play.
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