MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Football isn’t too common in Finland. Ice hockey, basketball and soccer are the popular sports, but that didn’t stop Eddie Vesterinen from pursuing a career on the gridiron.

The Helsinki native started playing football at age 14 just for fun. He discovered it shortly before on the internet. He was watching videos on YouTube and came across a compilation of some big hits.

“I thought, wow, this is cool, people get to do this. People hitting hard,” Vesterinen said. “Then, I looked up the local club team in my city, and that’s how it started.”

The under-15 league was made up of seven or eight teams and it was 11-on-11.

At 16, Vesterinen started playing with the local men’s team. He was competing against players who ranged between 20 and 30 years old.

His talents didn’t go unnoticed, especially matching up with more experienced players. That’s when Vesterinen first realized the future he could have in the sport.

“Everyone was telling me you need to go overseas to the U.S. to play football because you are really good at this,” he said. “That’s how I got into having dreams like this.”

Vesterinen played on the defensive line for the Helsinki Roosters and Finnish Senior National Team.

In 2019, he was named the Finland Men’s National League Lineman of the Year. He helped lead the National Team to three national championship tournament appearances.

Finnish football is just like the American version. They have similar schemes, plays and formations, but Vestrinen said he didn’t realize how much he didn’t know about football until he arrived in Morgantown.

“I really noticed the speed. My first rep here, I realized how fast the ball was snapped and I had to pay attention to it. The o-line moves quickly and more agile,” Vesterinen said. “The speed of the game was the biggest thing I had to adapt to.”

He added learning English wasn’t nearly as hard as learning the football jargon. For the former, he leaned on movies, like Forest Gump, and video games to get a better grasp of the language.

Regarding the phrasing of football, he leaned on his WVU teammates, especially Jalen Thornton. They are also finding ways to make Vesterinen feel more at home by learning about his culture.

Fellow defensive lineman Taurus Simmons came to him and asked to be taught Finnish. They are at the point where they can exchange common greetings.

Vesterinen appreciated the gesture. It made him feel more connected to home.

His parents haven’t been able to watch a WVU game in person since he joined the program in January of 2021.

“They’ve never been here to visit,” Vesterinen said. “I really hope that day comes and will get to see the facility we have and the fans. They saw me play back home, so they have some understanding.”

On game days, his mother stays up until the early hours of the morning to watch him and the Mountaineers due to the time difference. She has yet to miss a game.

“It’s hard for my parents to understand what I’m doing. They see all the pictures and videos I send them, and see me on TV so they know I’m working hard,” he said.

So far, BBQ and extended summers — the season is much shorter in Finland — are two of the top things Vesterinen likes best about living in the United States.