Season preview 2021: AaB 89ers

I denne 2021 optaksartikel ser vi nærmere på AaB 89ers, som de seneste år har gennemgået en enorm udvikling.

2020

AaB 89ers kommer fra deres historisk set bedste sæson, hvor de sidste år blev nr. 3 i grundspillet, og stod klar til at tage turen fra Nordjylland til Nordsjælland, hvor Søllerød Gold Diggers stod klar i semifinalen, da denne blev aflyst blot dagen før, grundet coronatituationen.

89ers har de seneste år været et højtscorende hold, som heller ikke var en undtagelse sidste år, hvor det blev til 32 point pr. kamp. I de fire kampe, var det blot i kampen mod SGD, hvor de ikke scorede 28 point eller mere.

På den defensive side havde de det svært mod Towers og SGD, hvor de lukkede hhv. 64 og 62 point ind, og samlet tillod 164 point i sæsonens fire kampe. Der er derfor ingen tvivl om, at der er brug for, at de forbedrer deres defensive spil til den kommende sæson, hvis de vil mere end en semifinale.

2021

I denne sæson vil vi også se et nyt 89ers offense, som de seneste år har været ført an af QB Alexander Kronborg. Kronborg er taget til Tyskland, hvor han spiller for Ravensburg Razorbacks sammen med TE Kasper Kauffman. Samtidig er National Ligaens MVP, Breon Allen taget videre på sin rejse i Europa, hvor han nu skal spille for finske Helsinki Wolverines. Ligeledes har 89ers også måtte finde en ny head coach, da Jakob Zinck Thellufsen er tiltrådt en rolle som sportsdirektør, og amerikanske Austin Jones har taget over som head coach. På trods af udskiftninger på markante poster og et haltende defense sidste år, så er der stor optimisme at spore i Aalborg.

89ers virker sikre på, at deres offense er stærkt nok til at være med igen på trods af afgange fra nøglespillere, hvor deres næste mand i rækken står klar. De har fået forstærket den offensive linje, ny amerikansk QB og tilført WR Magnus Urth fra Aarhus Tigers. Samtidig har de fået forstærkninger på den defensive side, som længe har været deres udfordring, hvor særligt DB Milos Illic kan forventes at gøre en forskel. Derfor er der optimisme at spore, når der skal kæmpes om pladserne i årets Mermaid Bowl

I forbindelse med sæsonstarten har vi talt med den nye head coach Austin Jones, QB Shelton Eppler, samt veteran og landsholds WR, Thomas Zinck Thellufsen omkring deres offseason og den forestående sæson.

Austin Jones, HC

Outside of football, who is Austin Jones?

Football is my life. Outside of football I enjoy playing with dogs, learning more about history and watching the Portland Timbers (MLS).

Can you tell us a little about your football background?

When I accepted the 89ers job I was the defensive coordinator at Rochester CTC, a juco in Minnesota. Prior to that I coached at FCS, NAIA, and D3 football. I’ve had the privilege to coach all three phases of the game (offense, defense, and special teams) in college football. 2021 will be my 5th season coaching in Europe, my 4th as a head coach.  I also spent two years coaching at a 6A high school in my home state of Oregon.

What brought your attention to Denmark and the 89ers?

When I decided I wanted to coach in Europe again, Denmark was a country that was high on my list. I talked to teams in Germany, and Denmark. I was leaning towards taking a job in the GFL, but when I saw what the 89ers have to work with and the talent on the team it made the decision easy for me. I’m excited to build on the foundation that has been laid here.

The 89ers has been doing great progress the last couple of years. What does it take for you to take the next step?

The key for us to take the next step as an organization is to compete every day. Since I arrived in Aalborg, I’ve been working to create a culture of competition. That can be uncomfortable for people at times, but that’s what it takes for us to achieve our goals. I’m working to instill a culture of enjoying each practice while making each other better. We have to push each other to get better every day. We’re going to work hard, and have fun doing it.

How have you guys come around the covid restrictions during this off season?

Our guys have been getting weekly tests since I arrived. Luckily, we’ve only had one positive test in that time. We followed protocol, took time off and I think it benefited us. Guys came back rested and ready to compete.

The 89ers has lost a few offensive playmakers, QB Kronborg, RB and league MVP Breon Allen, WR Frederik Myrup and TE Kauffman. How is that going to influence the high scoring 89ers offense?

Teams losing great players happens in every sport at every level. Other guys need to step up and fill the void.

Alexander Kronborg is the best Danish QB there is, and a guy that takes football very seriously. I got the chance to be around him for 3 months and I hold him in high regard. Obviously losing him hurts, but with the addition of Shelton Eppler we’ll have the best QB in the league.

Breon was a gamechanger for sure, but we have guys ready to step in and fill that void. He was able to help the guys behind him improve to a level that we feel good about.

Kauffman is a talented player that will be hard to replace. Not many guys have his combination of size and speed.

Myrup is a good player. I’d like to have him but bringing in Magnus Urth has added a new dimension to our offense.

Do you have any new players we should keep an eye on?

We’ve added quite a few guys this offseason. I already talked about Eppler and Urth, I think that’s a combination National League fans will be hearing a lot of. Mads Højen was a nice addition to our offensive line. Having Aaron Bronstein back is another big plus up front.

Defensively we’ve added Milos Ilic and Hjalmar Nielsen, they have great chemistry together in the secondary. We also added Tobias Fogtmann, I had the chance to coach him at RCTC and I’m excited to have him with the 89ers.

Do you fear teams won’t care about regular season, when you can go 2-6 and win the Mermaid Bowl?

I honestly don’t care how other teams feel about the regular season. Our approach is to focus on the next game on the schedule, prepare for that game, and go 1-0 each week all the way through October 9th.

What are your expectations for this season?

We have a great group of talented players that are working hard to maximize their potential both individually and collectively. We have a good thing going. My expectation is to win the Mermaid Bowl.

Thomas Zinck Thellufsen, WR

Hvem er du uden for fodboldbanen?

Til dagligt arbejder jeg som folkeskolelærer, hvor jeg underviser 7., 8. og 9. klasse i engelsk, historie,

samfundsfag og biologi – så corona har virkelig sat sine spor på min hverdag i 2020.

Hvilken rolle forventer du at have for AaB 89ers i den kommende sæson?

Som de sidste par år kommer jeg til at have min primære rolle i slotten i denne sæson. Jeg synes jeg har teknisk snilde, som passer godt indvendigt, hvor forsvarsspillerne ikke har en sidelinje, der kan hjælpe dem. Jeg forstår schemes og forsvarsspillernes teknikker, hvilket hjælper mig med at finde de rette rum.

89ers har været i en stor udvikling de seneste år, og nu har i måtte vinke farvel til Alexander Kronborg, Frederik Myrup, Kasper Kaufmann og ikke mindst liga MVP Breon Allen. Har det sat en dæmper på optimismen og forventninger i truppen?

Der er ingen tvivl om, at det er enormt dygtige football spillere, vi har måtte sige farvel/på gensyn til, men jeg synes også at flere af vores unge spillere har steppet op. Derudover har jeg stået over for det stærkeste 89ers defense, jeg har set, til træning de sidste 3 måneder – så dem glæder jeg mig til at se lave spil i år!

Corona satte sine dybe stor i 2020 sæsonen, først med en meget atypisk off season og senere ved, at aflyse semifinalerne. Hvad har i kunne tage med fra sidste sæson? Og har i været påvirket af det i off season?

Selvfølgelig var det en uheldig afslutning på sæsonen sidste år – og vi havde i 89ers en fornemmelse af, at det lige så godt kunne have været os sidste år. Men omstændighederne var som omstændighederne var.

Jeg har en fornemmelse af, at pandemien har sat større spor i de brede dele af foreningerne end rundt om ielite-miljøet. Og der er ingen tvivl om, at det kræver arbejde fra klubbernes side for at sikre, at det sidste halvandet år ikke sætter for dybe spor.

Hvad er dine forventninger til AaB 89ers og National Ligaen i den kommende sæson?

Det er selvfølgelig ærgerligt, at der kun står fire klubber i National Ligaen i år. Jeg tror dog godt, at man kan forvente sig god underholdning hver gang man tager ud og ser (eller tænder fjernsynet) for at se det højeste niveau football herhjemme. Og selvom setuppet sikrer slutspil til alle fire hold, er der stadig meget at spille om hver kamp. Jeg tror at det hold, der kommer ind i slutspillet med bedst afslutning på den regulære sæson kommer til at løbe med det hele. Og jeg vil gøre, hvad jeg kan, for det bliver os.

Shelton Eppler, QB

Outside of football, who is Shelton Eppler?

I was born and raised in a small town in Texas called Navasota. After college I pursued becoming a licensed insurance agent and have enjoyed the business aspect as well for a career. My Fiancée, is also here in Denmark with me and when we are back in Austin we are either working out or spending time with friends, family, or our precious rescue puppy named Saige.

What is your best memory from your career so far?

My best memory from my career so far is winning the Texas High School Football State Championship title my junior season. It was a once in a lifetime experience and really showed all the hard work we put in pay off. Definitely something I will always be thankful for and remember.

You have played at Northwestern State, DI program. What brought your attention to Denmark?

There were a couple of things that really opened my eyes to possibly playing abroad. I have had several coaches and teammates tell me about their amazing experiences playing in Europe and it seemed like something I would enjoy but I was also nervous to move away from Texas. In 2019 however, my brother signed a baseball contract to play in Japan and we got to visit him while he was there. It was absolutely incredible, and I knew after that if an opportunity ever came up I would want to pursue it.

What are you bringing to the 89ers organization? On and off the field?

When it comes to on the field I think I will bring a competitive, hard working, and tough mindset for the game of football that most Americans have to learn at a very young age. In the states, American football is the most popular and loved sport ever, so people take it to the next level when it comes to grit and competition. Off the field I think I will be able to provide a different insight and help break down the technical things to improve on form and skills. I’m hoping with these skills I can make a positive impact during my time here.

What are your expectations for this season?

My expectations are what they are every season I have played since I was 10 years old, WIN! With that being said, I also want to see improvements in the players I coach and even within my teammates. People always say they just want to have fun, well winning is the most fun!

AaB 89ers spiller National Ligaens åbningskamp på lørdag kl. 19.00, hvor Copenhagen Towers tager i mod dem i Gentofte.