MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Seven time zones and more than 4,300 miles separate Edward Vesterinen and his hometown of Helsinki, Finland. The Finnish Mountaineer is in his third season with West Virginia.

The former Helsinki Rooster and Finnish Senior National Team defensive lineman continues to progress on the field. Recognizing pre-snap indicators from his opponents, getting faster, and improving his mental toughness are just some of the ways he has improved since first arriving in Morgantown more than two years ago.

Watching YouTube videos grew his knowledge of football and appreciation of the sport — even the effect that the pageantry and sheer volume of 100,000 screaming Penn State fans can have on an opposing team.

That’s not all that has grown. It seems with every day and every new experience he has in his adopted home country, his appreciation for America grows, as well.

“America has been very welcoming to me,” he said Tuesday.

One part of the American way of life that appeals to Vesterinen the most is small talk. It may come as second nature to most people born in the United States, but according to the burly Finnish lineman, that’s not the norm in his native land.

“Just the culture of speaking more and being more communicative, like saying ‘How are you doing?’ asking, talking, having more of that talk. I mean, it’s hard to explain how different it is,” he said. “Back home, like I said last time, the small talk is not very good, especially with strangers. Like, we don’t talk with strangers much.”

Since joining the Mountaineer football program in January 2021, Vesterinen has traveled to or played in WVU football games in 14 cities across nine states, including Morgantown. He has traveled throughout three U.S. different time zones, and has experienced the Mountains of West Virginia, the open fields of Kansas, the high winds of Lubbock, and the desert of Arizona.

“I’ve gotten to see a lot of America, and I like it so far,” said Vesterinen.

He has done some U.S.-based traveling outside of football, as well. Vesterinen has traveled to Ohio, Virginia, Florida, and Washington D.C.

Producing on the gridiron is the reason Vesterinen is so far from home. Asked where his determination comes from, he responded by rhetorically asking why would he only give a portion of his effort to something given all that he has sacrificed to get here. Back home, football can only take Vesterinen so far. In the U.S., the game will take him wherever he takes it.

“It’s the land of opportunity. You can really do anything you want if you put the mind to it, because there’s so much opportunity. Finland, there’s only 5 million people living there. Here, it’s like 300 million people in a big country, and there’s a lot more opportunities than in Finland.”

Edward Vesterinen

With more than two and a half years of life in the U.S. under his belt, the saxophone-playing Finnish footballer has adjusted to living in one of the biggest countries in the world.

He traveled back to Helsinki in May to see his family, who in a few weeks will begin staying up through the early hours of Sunday morning to watch him play. Saying goodbye to his friends and family before voyaging across the Atlantic Ocean likely is never easy, though it is becoming less and less bitter.

“Now it feels more like home when I come back from Finland. It feels a lot more comfortable,” Vesterinen said. “I have a girlfriend here, and it just feels more comfortable, yeah.”

Coming back to a state they call Almost Heaven can have that effect on someone. Especially when Almost Heaven is a place he loves, and it includes playing a game he loves even more.

“People don’t think about going to America, to college, and receiving scholarships. No, you start football because it’s fun. I saw people just enjoy the game, and how they played it. I try to play the game the same way as they did,” he said.