Good-bye Paris, Hello Helsinki
After our season was ended by losing in the Final Four of the IFAF Champions League to the Helsinki Roosters, my time in Paris and playing for the Elancourt Templiers had come to an end. My first season in Europe was a positive one by winning the French Import MVP but also disappointing because of managerial issues and not winning the Champions League. Nevertheless, I learned a ton and was ready to go Dallas and celebrate a close friend's wedding with several other close friends. So I said my good-byes to the people I had grown close to and headed off to the states to see loved ones and to begin what I thought was going to be my off-season training. Plans can change fast.
I had just got back to Liberty, Missouri, where I was planning to live with my brother and help coach at the college I played for, when I received a message from Juha Hakala, the Head Coach of the Helsinki Roosters. Their Quarterback, Robert Johnson, got injured in the following weekend's game after their Champions League Victories and needed a replacement. With having seen me play against them the week prior and knowing my season was finished, they decided to see if I wanted the job. Before I knew it, I was crossing the Atlantic on my way to a completely new adventure and the funniest part is, I hadn't even unpacked from Paris yet.
I was picked up at the airport by Juha and Olli, the media manager and conditioning coach for the Roosters. We talked for a while, did an interview, and then we were off to my new temporary home and to meet me new roomies, Jaycen Price Taylor Spears and John Clements, both of whom are former Raiders (foreshadowing). They both took me in and tried to catch me up to speed as fast as possible. I did not have much time to get acclimated.
I arrived on a Friday and was on the bus for our game the next morning to go and play in Seinäjoki, a.k.a. middle of nowhere Finland... lucky me. Needless to say, I did not play in the game but the 12 hours on the bus did give me the opportunity to see the beautiful Finnish landscape and to meet several of my new teammates. It was very interesting for me to compare and contrast my teammates coming from Paris to Helsinki. I mean, I am not sure if you could pick two more opposite types of people, the Parisians and the Fins. What both teams had in common is that they did not take me in immediately, but for different reasons. In France, the hesitation from my teammates seemed to be because of the language barrier more than anything (Parisians aren't too fond of speaking English incase you didn't know), but the Fins seem to be inherently shy people, that is until they take you drinking! More on that later.
The game against Seinäjoki was an ugly loss but the team came back to practice the next week energized and wanting to see what their new QB had to offer. I was pretty nervous because all eyes were really on me. It is a tough spot to be in when a QB comes in mid-season. I think even I underestimated how difficult it would be to learn a new playbook, develop timing with WRs, and acclimate into a new team, all as fast as possible.
We must of done a decent job acclimating though because we did not lose a game for the rest of the season, even with Jaycen, our import RB taking a vacation until the playoffs (he actually had bruised ribs but the crazy thing was the man still won MVP of the league...). We even had a blow out win in my first start and that meant for a big after game party and Finnish male bonding.
There was a funny dynamic between myself and the Roosters because we had played each other only about 3 weeks prior from me playing for them. This dynamic was really strong between me and the defensive line, whom decided to basically take me under their wing and induct me into the Roosters Family. Now without going into too many details, and honestly not remembering too many of them, the night consisted of bonding, trash talking, adult beverages, water, more adult beverages, more water, hiding in the bathroom of a club only to be carried back to the bar by abnormally large men, more adult beverages and McDonald's but by the next morning, I had a new Finnish family and a hangover I will never forget.
The rest of the Maple League season flew by and before I knew it I would be playing for my first Championship in my entire football career.