SBB Vukovi Belgrade are one of the highest ranked teams in Eastern Europe. Team has celebrated its 10 year anniversary in January of this year. Ever since the team was founded, Vukovi have always competed for the top spots and have participated in all finals in all the competitions they played in – both domestic and international. To be more concrete, that’s 11 titles, 5 domestic league championships (2 during the split in the Serbian federation), 4 CEFL championships and 1 Serbian Cup trophy.
In 2012, Vukovi participated in domestic – Serbian Superleague and international – CEFL (Central European Football League). In Serbian Superleague, Vukovi have defended the national title by beating Kragujevac Wild Boars, and in CEFL – Vukovi lost to Ljubljana Silverhawks (Slovenia). Loss to the team from Ljubljana was the 1st loss Vukovi suffered in the past 6 years on their home field.
Vukovi started participating in CEFL back in 2006, when the league was founded. CEFL is a cost friendly league, which also provides TV broadcast via SportKlub TV. Goran Nišavić, Vukovi president, didn’t hide the satisfaction of having his team participate in the league: “TV broadcast gives us not only visibility, but also an easier approach to sponsors. There are no costs involved in the CEFL, only the incentives, which helps us a lot.”
Also, Vukovi have worked hard during the off season, and their “domestic arrivals chart” is pretty impressive. Mihailo Josović has arrived to start at RB position as one of the most talented players in Serbia, where Josović was invited to go to the Team World Camp. Marko Bates, Vukovi veteran CB, returned from Ljubljana Silwerhawks. Filip Vezmar, veteran who played for several teams (Budapest Wolves, Zagreb Patriots and Novi Sad Dukes). Srđan Stanojev, kicker from Novi Sad and national team kicker. Miloš Tomić is also back, Vukovi former starting OL who didn’t play last year
“Our guys are fierce competitors. They wanted to join a program that not only competes at a high level, but is successful at the same time. We were able to offer that opportunity our goal each year is nothing less than a championship.” – says Lance Kriesien, QB.
Notable Departures: Nemanja Lazarević, LB and defensive leader, voted defensive MVP of the Serbian League 2012, left to USA to study together with WR Filip Stojanović WR, who was voted offensive MVP 2012 of the Serbian League. Marko Nešović, starting OT went to play in Norway.
Notable Retirements: Dejan Cerovac, veteran WR and leading WR in CEFL in 2011 and Luka Strahinović, starting CB.
Nišavić says: “As always, I expect to fight for the championship and get both titles this year. I see that competition level is being raised every year, which is great, since we are all raising the whole level of football in the region. In my opinion we can’t be satisfied only with the titles, we need to have the domestic players and domestic coaches progression every year in order to progress further as a team.”
Vukovi, as an organization, besides seniors, have a U19 junior program and the juniors team is participating in Serbian junior leagueregularly. Also, there’s a flag team which is also competing, as well as women’s flag team. Starting a U15 team is a plan for the very near future.
Vukovi say that they are always trying to promote the right values, either through their gamedays, or participating in different causes such as blood drives for example.
Biggest media coverage Vukovi had is definitely getting most of their games to be broadcasted via TV Stations (TV Arena, and now TV SportKlub) – where both SAAF and CEFL games are live on TV.
Leading such a big organization is not easy, and Nišavić shares some of his experience: “I have been the Vukovi president for 7 years now, and in the very beginning it was a one man show. I was responsible for everything – from finances to mouthguards. It was hard because we were building a team from zero, and football almost didn’t even exist in the region at that time. Now, we have a team of people – mostly former and current players, who are working for the team and helping out the club. Also, thanks to CEFL, things have changed. Now people know who we are, they recognize us, and they see us on TV. If you want to go to the next step after the basic setup, you need to set up the other organizational basics for a successful organization, and that is transparent system of functioning, delegation of responsibilities, finding proper personnel etc. Our team board consists of 5 people who are either sponsors or people who are directly involved with the team, and are making majority of decisions.”
In the previous years, Vukovi have engaged a large number of American coaches and Imports. First two import players were Jordan Green and Will Blocker – who came to the team in 2008, and both left a big mark. Also, one of the most notable imports is Brandon McDowell, who spent 4 years in Belgrade. Considering coaches, first American coach was Aleksandar Hadžipavlović, who won the first national and international title for Vukovi with his QB at that time – Briton Burge. After Aleksandar, John Harper won 4 titles in a 2-year span.
The biggest mark that any American coach left so far – is presence of Reuben Droughns. Droughns is a former NFL star and Superbowl winner, who also won both titles in 2010 as interim head coach, replacing Rex Stevenson in the middle of the season. Reuben has spent the last 3 years in Belgrade, working as an assistant coach. Reuben will be returning to Belgrade in the middle of 2013 season.
Current HC, Sean Embree will spend his second year with the Vukovi, and is also coaching the Serbian National Team, that won C group of European Championship in 2012.
“Coach Embree. He is undoubtedly one of the most capable and experienced coaches in Europe and it is a big selling point for potential recruits. Our players, both domestic and import, receive keen tutelage and proven coaching that we think helps us gain an edge on our competition.” says Kriesien.
Also, Lance Kriesien is brought back to play QB. He was voted to be CEFL offensive MVP in 2012. Besides Lance, Vukovi have signed Paul Wright – LB, and this is the first time Vukovi have signed a LB. One more addition is Tony Washington – Sacramento State WR.
“I think that goes both ways with picking. If you have an organization that is sticking to its contracts and you treat your players in right, both domestic and import, players will want to come to you as they do to Vukovi. We usually make a draft list and then we start to pick import players. Both new signings, Paul and Tony topped our draft list. They all expect to win championships, they know about our winning tradition so they expect nothing less. All our imports loved Serbia and always wanted to be back. It is cheaper than Western Europe, people are friendly, food is good and girls are cute.” says Nišavić.
Transition to a new country, in this case continent, is always hard. So far, the imports have really taken a liking to the city and its people. Kriesien has been helping the new imports adjust: “As any American will tell you, it is much different than the States, but they expected it and are taking it in stride. My return for another season has really helped the transition process as I was able to help bridge the initial gap for the first few weeks. The city offers numerous exploratory opportunities, great food, and a vibrant nightlife. It’s hard to not like the while city.”
“One situation that was probably a turnaround of the team was the CEFL final game in 2007, when we were trailing 13 points, 90 seconds before the end of the game. At the time we were known for losing in the final games. Before that last 90 seconds, everyone thought we lost the game. We had people crying on the sidelines and then we received kickoff and the last 90 seconds of the game started… And, we won the game in the last second. From that moment on, we started winning final games, and our trademark is comebacks in the second half and the last minutes of the game.” – Goran Nišavić remembers.