TD[EU] Teams: GAT Dukes Novi Sad Of Serbia

Design: Olga Milosevic
The Novi Sad Dukes were founded back in 2002., December 2nd to be exact. Like the most teams in EU, guys who founded the team were nothing but a group of enthusiasts who loved football, not knowing how fast football will expand just a decade after.

Dukes started with no gear whatsoever. It was like watching American football - the rugby way. However, that didn't stop them from hosting games, along with 10 other Serbian teams.. In 2005. gear arrived as a donation from The States.

Team had a bright future - Novi Sad is a university city, drafting people was not that hard. Coaching was, as there were no Americans around, but, that didn't stop them to become a serious opponent that most didn't really feel good playing against. Dukes are a 3 times domestic league vice champion (2007, 2009, 2010), and also they were 3rd in the regional league - CEFL, back in 2008. Dukes were known as a very fast and athletic team.

However, if you ask any of the "older" Dukes, everyone would say that 2008. was their best season, although they didn't have any Americans on the team. They were 13-0 in the domestic and regional league combined during the regular season. Despite that, that was also their worst season. Both of the QBs got injured, bad. Csaba Juhasz was one of the best, if not the best at that time, and Rastko Jokic was right there following him. Program started going down the hill from there. They had to find and coach new QBs, FAST, but it was not that easy to find people who could continue the legacy of Juhasz and Jokic.

Dukes had or still have some very notable players. Ivan Medjugorac, LB/P, was the only Serb to become a part of the All Star Team EU. So far, Dukes had over 20 seniors starting for the national team throughout the years.

Season 2012. was the first season to sign an American. Dukes signed a HC, John Douglas Harper. Even with Coach Harper, season didn't turn out to be what was expected. Dukes competed in the Elite Division of the domestic league and... Took the 6th place. Enough to secure their spot in the Elite Division. 
Photo: Vukasin Karadzic
Current Head Coach Vladislav Petkovic, who was the Defense Coordinator during the 2012 season, says that 2012 was definitely the year where Dukes realized that radical changes have to be made in order to get the old shine. It was time to burn everything to the ground and build again. Of course, Rome wasn't built in a day, and Dukes are not scared of the "construction field" that's ahead of them.

"Players started feeling down, tired, and just plain exhausted - both mentally and physically. Our HC at that time was putting in a lot of work on our plates. Team was practicing 6 days out of 7, including 2 practices per each day on the weekends. That doesn't include the hours in the classroom and gym. We know we were far behind comparing to the teams who already had American coaches and/or players, but, the fast pace of things didn't turn out to be that good for the guys. Program started going down and players and coordinators couldn't do anything to get back to the old winning mindset that this team was known for. However, the American Head coach did teach the team a lot, just, unfortunately, team didn't click with him at the end of the day. It was time to split up and follow the path we felt more comfortable with." - adds coach Petkovic.

Petar Mikovic, one of the Dukes linemen, agrees with coach Petkovic, and adds: "We learned a lot. Our level of the game got higher, although the scoreboard didn't show it. We didn't have imports, and we couldn't keep up with the level of the other teams. On top of it all - we were missing a QB. Our QBs did an amazing job, they left their heart on the field, but, we all agree that an American QB would make a bigger difference."

In January of 2013. Novi Sad Dukes shut down. Luckily, they got picked up by a company - "GAT".

GAT Dukes
- Board is now a group of people who have no ties with American football, nor follow the sport. We hope this will be a good thing for the team, as making decisions is not tied to the players but to what's best for the club on the long run. Gear is old, and that's one of the biggest problems. We don't have a budget to buy 45+ sets, however, we're hoping to establish a relationship with a US college that would donate their "old" gear. We work with what we have, it IS hard and it takes a lot of improvisation and creativity to make things work. - says Coach Petkovic, and, Mladen Knezevic, fullback, continues: "Who wants to play will play. We don't ask for a whole lot. We will be happy if we get the new gear, but, it is what it is right now. Of course whole body hurts after the game more, when you have gear that's going to celebrate it's 8th birthday, but, on the other hand - this is not a sport for weak people who complain."

Some of the players turn to buying their own pads and helmets.
Knezevic. Photo: Sinisa Mladenovic

"During the practice we don't have a lot to work with considering the props. However, we use dummies.. We don't have sleds. But we're making it work the way we can." says Andrej Puskas, WR, and adds: "Props are not the biggest problem. Like Coach Petkovic and my teammate Mladen just said, gear is the biggest issue, and I have to add - practice field. There are no adequate practice fields for us to use in Novi Sad. Well, there are, but they are "occupied" by soccer teams who don't want to rent it to us saying we'll destroy it. On the brighter side, we do have a soccer stadium we host our games at. Even with all that being said, we have 40+ seniors always present at practice and they're working hard. This season will be different because of the discipline that Coach Petkovic demands. It was time for us to get more serious if we want to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves as individuals, as well as a team."

"I hope that the juniors will have more to look forward to. Our coach knows how important the juniors are. We were doing everything we can make our team proud, whenever we had a chance to get on the field. I know it's up to us to show how serious we are, and I hope my junior teammates are aware of the fact that there's a long way for them to get to the level of getting the respect on this team." says Srdjan Jandric, lineman who starts both for the juniors and seniors, and was one of the juniors representing the Dukes on the Serbian juniors national team.

Blanton. Photo: Dunja Buhin

Dukes didn't focus on big domestic transfers for 2013, players from other teams did arrive to help the team and are a valuable asset to the team. Biggest signings are definitely 2 American athletes - Christopher Blanton RB/DB and Wayne Johnson CB/WR.

"We really needed imports. We started looking really late, middle of Jan. We talked to dozens of players,  until we got to the guys who caught our attention. They are that piece of the puzzle our team was missing - they're young, fast, and talented. says Andrej Puskas, WR.

Blanton and Johnson are excited to be a part of the team. Johnson says: "A lot of teams overlooked me, but GAT Dukes gave me a chance. After meeting my teammates my expectations are very high for this season. We have some very good players that are going to make plays for us and I know that I am capable of being a Top player in the league and I will give my 100% every game", and Blanton continues: We only have one goal for the season, and that is to be the champions, what other goal is there to have? We are charging into the season with a serious attitude. Teams may think we will be push over this season, because of the friendly game against the Indians  but not at all. That game was a wake up call to let us know that even the team with the best athletes and best team can be taken down, so watch out all you so called dominant teams, Vojvode are coming."

"I hope we will reach the playoffs, and secretly hoping to enter the finals. Level of our opponents is high, and we're working hard to reach their level. Biggest opponents at this point are definitely Kragujevac Wild Boars and Belgrade Vukovi, however, every single team in the league is working just as hard, and football - it's nothing but surprises. Everyone is a tough opponent, especially with the fact that everyone has imports in the Elite Division except maybe one team." - adds coach Petkovic.

QB Jokic Heads To Mizzou
Rastko Jokic, former Dukes QB who lead the team to numerous wins and unfortunately got injured, had a chance to go to University of Missouri. Unfortunately, Rastko wasn't approved by the NCAA to play for Mizzou, but, he did spend a year studying at the Uni. He had a chance to see 1st hand how college football team is run and how the organization looks like. 

We asked Rastko about his Mizzou experience. "When I first arrived there, first thing I noticed was that just the size of the gym was equal to the size of a European shopping mall. It seems like everything is devoted to the football program and not vice versa. They understand the importance of the sport, and are willing to give everything in order to develop the program. Main university promo IS the football program!"

Rastko also added that every practice is perfectly orchestrated and that everyone knows what they're supposed to do. - "Every player gives his 100%, every second of the practice - for every drill, play..."

"Everything is like that because these athletes play for their life. Every single play and drill will determine their professional future in football. They know what they got into and they know they have to be the best. Education in USA really is privilege of the rich, and sports - especially football gives a chance to guys like you and me to study and earn a university degree.

Now, in EU players mindset is different because there are no school programs. Football is still a sport for enthusiasts. Hence, players are missing the biggest motivation of it all - because football will not pay their bills. Also, the thing that's missing the most is dedication and love for the sport. Most of EU football players don't realize that this is the sport which you have to live and breathe. No fake motives. Every practice is a whole new story to be written. Football is not just practice and games. Football has to be in your head - all day, every day!"

Photo: Sinisa Mladenovic
Dukes are big on community and charity work. Dukes parties became a brand, where guests wouldn't pay for the entrance, but traditionally bring candy for the less fortunate ones. This way, Dukes visited all the facilities around the city where kids are at - from homeless to special needs ones.

Besides that, Dukes handle the marketing very well. Cosmopolitan shoot, various appearances in high budget music videos and commercials.

Team Spirit
Dukes on a bus
Dukes love keeping the team spirit alive. They have different traditions, however, everything goes down for everyone to just get together. It doesn't matter if it's under a tree or at a house by the river of one of the players.

Most of the guys would say that one of the best moments on the field was when the Dukes had their 5th win against the Kragujevac Wild Boars. One of the Dukes took out a roast out of his truck and brought it to the field. Some might consider it disrespectful towards the team they have played against, but, it had nothing to do with it. Serbs are just big on pork.

Andrej Puskas also remembers one of the best off field moments for him: "At the end of practice, we always gather around and chant 1 2 3 TEAM, 1 2 3 DUKES. We had a late night practice on the day of my birthday. Everything seemed "normal" until it was time for the chant at the end of the practice. Guys gathered around and yelled "1 2 3 ANDREJ PUSKAS, 1 2 3 HAPPY B-DAY". It was awesome!"

Mia Bajin