Interview: Filip Vlajić - 'Be The Best You Can Be - On And Off The Field'

Photo: Goran Milosavljevic Fotografie

Filip Vlajić is one of the "silent heroes". He does what needs to be done off the field, and always makes sure he gives his best on the field. Filip has been with the SWARCO Raiders for years now, and his dedication is second to none. And, this is his story:

Beginnings

Actually, this is a pretty funny story how I started playing American Football. This is my 5th season with the SWARCO Raiders now, but I will never forget how I started playing for this team, because this story involves one of my current teammates.

Enrico Martini, who is well known in European football and played for the German national team and is one of our DB´s, attended our physical education class in school at that time and wanted to ask me if I want to come to a tryout for American football. My classmates told me that the wanted to talk to me after our class, but I did not believe them, because why would an American football player from the SWARCO Raiders want to talk to me about joining them.

So afterwards I looked at the roster of the SWARCO Raiders on their website, found him on Facebook and then I texted him. I was surprised, because I did not expect to be asked to come to a tryout, so I took this chance and went with him to my first football practice.

There I talked to coach Shuan Fatah, which we all know is probably the best European football coach, and he already then told me I could play running back. To be honest, at that time, I did not even know what I have to do as a running back, because I never played football before, but this was the beginning of my career with the SWARCO Raiders Tirol.

Photo: Hema Photography


Most Memorable Games

Of course, I can remember my first football game ever, in which I have played for our second team, the SWARCO Raiders Tirol JV. However, my second game was even more special for me, because I was invited to play for our first team at the Tivoli stadium in front of the best football fans in Europe. We played against the Mödling Rangers and I even got some playing time in the end, I will never forget this game.

A special game for me was the game against the Düsseldorf Panther in our Battle 4 Tyrol league, because in this game I scored my first touchdown ever. It was a special moment, because we were playing in Innsbruck and my family and friends were in the stands. So, it was really a special moment in my life that I will never forget. After this TD, I hoped to have a good season, but in the game in football you never know, so unfortunately, I got injured the following week and had to sit out for the rest of the season, due to an ankle injury.

Another game I will never forget is the BIG 6 final against the New Yorker Braunschweig Lions last year. Unfortunately, we lost, but this game has a special meaning for me, because it changed me as a player. We just gave the game away; two small mistakes can make a huge difference in such games where no errors are allowed.

After this game, we were all locked in and had the next mission on our minds: The Austrian Bowl. But like I said this game changed me, because I have never been more motivated after this loss, I started working much harder on my game. Also as a team we were working much harder after this loss, because we knew we must win the Austrian Bowl.

Then one of the most memorable moments of my life so far: The Austrian Bowl XXXII. We played against the Graz Giants, who gave us our only loss in the AFL, so it was payback time and we delivered. We won 51:7. Our coaching staff prepared us perfectly for that game, so we knew what was coming and what we have to bring to the table to win it.

I can´t describe the atmosphere we had before the game. It was different. This has been my second Austrian Bowl and from looking my teammates in their eyes I knew that we will win it even before the game. Everyone did their job and we were focused till the end.

In my first Austrian Bowl, we lost against the Vienna Vikings in overtime, which was one of the toughest losses. Thanks to all my coaches and teammates we took care of business and won. This has been one of the best days in my life so far, because since then I am able to call myself a champion. It was even better that my parents have been there watching the game and afterwards I brought them down and we took pictures and celebrated together, it was just a wonderful day.

Then of course I have to mention the games I played for the Serbian National Team in the European B championship. It is just something different when you represent your country, because you also represent your family, friends and where you come from. Standing in the line with all my brothers and singing the National anthem for the first time was by far the best moment in my life so far.

Unfortunately, we lost against Italy in the final, we came back and gave them a hard time in the end. We lost 17:14, but I can say that if we would have had two minutes more we would have been champions but we just ran out of time. However, we lost against Italy, who also had some Americans playing for them. We gave them a tough battle and I know that we will bounce back and fight our way up to group A. It was also one of the toughest losses, but like I said before I can´t wait to go out there with my Serbian brothers, because I know that everyone is motivated and that we belong to Europe´s top National teams.

This year’s victory against my fellow Serbians in the CEFL Bowl is also a special game for me, because this gave me my first international title. It was hard playing against my teammates from the National Team, we talked before and after the game, but I told myself that within these 48 minutes I will do everything I can for my team to win this championship. And yet again, our coaches prepared us perfectly for this good opponent.

I want to take this chance and thank all my teammates and coaches and congratulate them again, but I also want to show my respect to the Kragujevac Wild Boars, who played a good game and were a fair and tough opponent, I know that they are in good hands and will be giving Europe´s top teams a hard time in the future.

Photo: Goran Milosavljevic Fotografie


Practice

It´s all about the small things and most importantly - all the details. You have to have patience and trust your coaches and teammates. I have played with many great teammates like, Talib Wise, Kyle Callahan, Sean Shelton, Milton Knox, John Clements and many more. If you really want to get better you must ask for advice and take advantage of it.

Furthermore, you have to be obsessed with the game itself and you cannot be afraid to fail. I always asked these guys if I did something right or how I could do it better. Like I mentioned before, trust your game, be confident, know what you are doing, but most importantly have patience, because nothing comes over night.

Trust the process. Work as hard as you can. Never stop believing in yourself, because you are the only one that knows what you are capable of. Be the best you can be, not only on the field but also off the field. Try to be better every practice and stay hungry.


Serbian National Team

I still remember the date when I got the first message from Nikola Davidovic, who first invited me to a tryout for the National Team. It was on April 7th, 2016 when he texted me. It was one of the biggest surprises in my life so far, because this was a lifelong dream of myself.

I immediately told him that it does not matter when the tryout is I would be there, if it would be on the next day I would jump in my car and come all the way from Innsbruck to Serbia.

Then, after the first tryout, where 130 players participated, everything went fast. Step by step I came closer to my dream. Every weekend we had camps and prepared ourselves for the European Championship. We were in great shape and had a great group of guys. I could have not asked for better teammates, or let´s better say, brothers to play with. Coaching staff did also a great job of preparing us for the games against Switzerland and Italy. For our last camp, which was five days long we traveled to Arilje, a nice area in Serbia. We had much fun, but were working very hard with two practices per day.

After the five-day camp, we had two days off and afterwards we traveled from Belgrade to Lignano, Italy. We had some great practices before the semifinal game against Switzerland, which we won. The next day we started our preparation for the final game against Italy. It was the first time that I have been a part of the National Team of Serbia and that I participated in an European Championship and it is really super hard to prepare yourself to play two games in five days and also have meetings and practices in between the games.

In this interview, I already talked about our last game against Italy, which was disappointing, because I know that we were the better team and played like a true National Team, because we did not have any Americans on our team to gain any advantages or what so ever. We just started slow, but I truly think that if we would have had two more minutes we would have been the European Champions, but that’s the game.

However, I can´t wait to meet all of my brothers again and go to war with them, because I know that in the near future we will fight our way up to the group A and compete with the best National Teams. I want to thank again everyone who was involved in this whole process, because these were probably the proudest moments of my life so far. With becoming a National Team player last year, I fulfilled all my childhood dreams, I just expect that this group of guys stays together so we can build a really strong bond and play better each time we get together. It´s just a matter of time till you will be able to see us in group A.


SWARCO Raiders

It´s by far the best football organization in Europe. We have the best coaches, all the equipment we need, awesome trainers, who always take care of our injuries after the games, all around the organization just takes care of us like we are true professionals.

In the last couple of years, we also have great practice fields and meeting rooms, so we do not have to cancel any of them. But we also have to deliver and bring home the championships, because this organization does not deserve anything else than championships.

They take care of us so we can win the games and bring home the championships. For example, we had a long trip to Poland this year, and to make it more comfortable we were able to travel with the Beat the Street buses, in which we had TV´s, kitchens, beds, movies, Playstations and many other things. It was like if we were travelling in apartments, more or less. With these buses, you really felt like an pro athlete from the top leagues, I never imagined something like that when I started playing football.

You really appreciate things like that and this is the reason why we give our best on the field, because we also want to give something back to the organization.

Season 2017 

If we look at the AFL, we had a pretty good regular season with only one loss and nine wins. The first place in our league have the Vienna Vikings, because they beat us by more points than we beat them in the first game, but still we were able to qualify directly to the semifinals. With this outcome we can be proud, because we had a generation exchange in our team. Normally in these generation changes, 5-6 guys quit playing or have a job or something else, but around 20 guys left our team, so we have more or less a new group of guys. But, I can only praise all the young players, who stepped up to the challenge and we will be even better in the next years.

We will give our best to get to the big show again. It was the first time in the last couple of years that we had two bye weeks before a game, so I think that we all have “fresh legs” and took care of the injuries and prepared well for our opponent. We will give our best to make the three peat and bring the Championship back to Tyrol where it belongs.

Looking at the CEFL, we really did not know what to expect, because you play teams for the first time, it´s a new league, new rules and besides the Vukovi Belgrade every team was a National Champion last year, so we knew that the competition will be hard. We had hard battles in the CEFL, especially our game in Poland. In the end, we were able to turn it around and win and so give us a chance to advance to the final.

After beating the Triangle Razorbacks, I was nervous, because I heard that we will play the Kragujevac Wild Boars, where some of my friends from the National Team play. So, it was a little bit a strange feeling playing against guys I spent nearly 2 months last summer, because this was also the first time I played against a Serbian team.

I have to admit I was super proud when the Serbian national anthem has been played in the Tivoli stadium for the first time. Also, I was the speaking captain for this game, so these were just wonderful moments in my football career. However, it was still a game we had to win so in these 48 minutes I had to forget who my friends from the National team are and concentrate at the job at hand.

In the end, we were able to win the game and bring the CEFL Championship to Innsbruck for the first time. They played a really good game and I think games like this will help Serbian American football, because they can take some things which are differently handled here and improve them at home then. After the game, I really enjoyed the time with my friends from the National team so it was really a nice day.

Personally, this was by far my best season. I got much more playing time and also got the starting position in some special teams. I have to thank my last year’s coach Florian Grein, who probably everyone in the European American football scene knows, because I learned so much from him and he really prepared me well for all the challenges. Playing for him last year was great, he always pushed us running backs to the limit, so we are always well prepared.

So far, I have scored five touchdowns, one in the CEFL game against the Razorbacks and the last four in the last three AFL games. It is really by far my best season, but I am not satisfied with that. If we do not win the AFL championship all the TD´s and yards don´t mean anything.

Photo: Florian L. Schellhorn


Rituals

Somehow, I don´t really have any rituals before the game. I have some movies I like to watch the night before the game to get myself motivated. I try to get good sleep go early to bed. On gameday I have my music playlist I listen to before the game. This year I changed my nutrition so I try to eat the right meals the days before the game and on gameday I have special pre-game meals I cook and eat.

Basically, I watch motivational movies the night before and then on gameday I get hyped with my playlist.

I really like to hang out at home the night before and also play some Playstation to not get overhyped for the game. Right before the warm-up for the game, Sandro Platzgummer, Tobias Bonatti and myself, the RB crew of the Raiders, go out onto the field and do like a pre-warm-up to get loose and ready. Otherwise I do not need any real pre-game rituals to get hyped, I just try to go out and to my thing when my number is called.

Motivation

What drives me is that I am always that guy that is going to be overlooked. People say I´m too small, too slow, etc… I always have that mindset that I will prove these people wrong, I will show you what I am capable of and then you just can´t overlook me.

When I started playing football I set goals for myself, some of them I reached already, some of them not, but I think it is essential to set yourself some goals. Deep inside me I always I have something that drives me and most of the time people underestimate me and I hate that, so I do everything I can to prove them wrong.

For all the young guys, you have to set yourself some goals, but also you have to be prepared to deliver when it´s time to, know the plays, know where you have to be, know what the other guys are doing, don´t be afraid to try to be perfect. You can proof all doubters wrong, I know that, because when I started playing 5 years ago, so many people told me: “oh nice you´re playing football, but probably you will quit after some weeks!” I just proofed them wrong.

Football is family. When I go to practice, I´m happy that I see all my teammates and coaches and everyone. I enjoy the time with them, because you can´t play football forever it´s just a short time of your life so you have to enjoy it. We hang out after practices, before them, on the off days, after the games, it´s just a brotherhood. I think that will be the part I will miss the most when I quit playing football.

Don´t be afraid to fail, go out there enjoy the game, give your best and enjoy the short time, you will miss it when it´s gone. Try to be perfect, if you are afraid to fail, you will never succeed.
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