American-Swedish QB Turning Heads in Europe

Kristianstad Predators quarterback leading team into playoffs

 

Philip Juhlin may only be 22 years old and without true college experience, but this American/Swedish quarterback is creating a stir, not just in Sweden but throughout all of Europe.

Phillip Juhlin is from Maryville, Tennessee and proud of it. He is also Swedish and bleeds yellow and blue (Sweden’s colors). And he is proud of it.

This is his third season playing quarterback in his father’s native country and since arriving he has helped his team – the Kristianstad Predators – climb from Division 1 in Sweden to the top ranks of the Swedish elite league – the Super Series. This Saturday they will face Sweden’s premier team – the Carlstad Crusaders – in the Swedish semi-finals, the team’s first-ever trip to the playoffs. The Predators finished fourth in the regular season while Carlstad was undefeated and finished first.

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Juhlin on the move.

Juhlin’s head coach, Jon Walker, was effusive in talking about the only quarterback he has coached in Sweden: “Phil had been signed by the club just before I arrived in my first season, but I discovered an important thing right away.”

Jon himself is from Sacramento and came to the Predators after spending seven years as the head coach at American River College in California. “I have a fairly complex playbook,” he continued. “But Phil picked it up right away. I was impressed.”

Initially, Juhlin had intended to travel to many of the clubs in Sweden when first coming to the country back in late 2011. He had wanted to combine football with schooling, to get his university degree in Sweden. He had spent a year and a half at Carson Newman College (NAIA), but realizing he was never going to see the field he left the school. He knew he had another option – Sweden.

Since his father is Swedish, he was entitled to a Swedish passport as well as an American. His mother is American. According to the import rules, he could play as a Swede and not as an import American. Since only two Americans are allowed on a team in Sweden, and normally one of them is an American or Canadian quarterback, he was like gold to every team in Sweden. It is virtually impossible to find a quality home-grown quarterback in Sweden, or almost anywhere else in Europe for that matter.  But it did not take him long to settle on the small town of Kristianstad, in southern Sweden.

Kristianstad, Sweden

Kristianstad, Sweden

“We have relatives close by here and I liked the atmosphere within the club and in the town itself.” he said.

With his fearless attitude and great football instincts, according to Walker, he quickly earned the respect of his teammates. Walker has watched him develop from a 19 year old rookie to a seasoned, veteran quarterback. “The players feed off of him and his willingness to put himself on the line all the time.” continued Coach Walker.

At 6’1″ and 210 lbs, he is not your typical drop back quarterback. He plays much bigger than he is. However, he struggled in his first year in the top league. “In 2012, in the first division, things seemed fairly easy and we won the entire conference to advance to the elite league,” continued Walker. “But last year, he had a tough time and when teams were physical, he paid the price with his playing style. So he came back this season having added 25 lbs of muscle.”

“I loved him right away,” said Hickey. “Even though he was playing against us, he was fun to watch.”

Quite obviously, that has made a huge difference as now he can handle the hits that he takes. “I have to admit (in the past) the gym was not my first destination in the off season,” Juhlin explains.”This past off season, I was determined that it would be.”

Terry Kleinsmith, head coach of another top club in Sweden, the Tyresö Royal Crowns, and himself a former quarterback, has been impressed with Juhlin’s development and leadership. “He is invaluable for the Predators,” he said. “He does so many things well and is a leader on that team, and he is Swedish to boot.”

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Juhlin leading Swedish national team in 2014 European Championships

Phil Hickey, who now resides in California after a luminous 25 year career in American football in Europe at all levels, having played NFL Europe and coached as well as been an administrator, was a quarterback himself. He was on the Team Germany coaching staff when Juhlin started for Sweden in the game against European Championship eventual winner Germany in early June. “I loved him right away,” said Hickey. “Even though he was playing against us, he was fun to watch.He is a gunslinger and makes things happen. We won but he put a scare into us.”

He was the starting quarterback for Sweden in that game, but got hurt later in the contest and former starter Anders Hermodsson,took over. “I have to admit, I was nervous. Big crowd, television audience and me starting.” But Juhlin was not bothered once on the field. Regardless of the injury early in the fourth quarter, he was a major reason Sweden came so close to getting an upset. The game was the most exciting of the tournament outside of the final game itself, although they lost 52-40. He was 13 of 29 for 170 yards passing and three touchdowns, all against the best defense in Europe.

Juhlin is a starter on the Swedish American football national team – Team Sweden – and he finished second in the Swedish Super Series both in terms of passing yards and total offensive yards to, who else, Anders Hermodsson, his opponent in the playoffs. He also finished second in touchdown passes and fourth in passing efficiency. Quite a year. Now he wants to take the next step up.

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This Saturday, he and the Predators face their toughest test yet as they travel to the quaint town of Karlstad to face the Crusaders in the Swedish semi-finals.

They have played the defending champions once already this season losing 56-35. However, the offense, and Phil, had a pretty good day anyway. Juhlin was 29 of 46 for 381 yards and five touchdowns.

Make no mistake. Philip Juhlin and the Predators are not taking the seven and a half hour bus ride up to Karlstad just to turn around and return home empty handed. They think they can surprise everyone.

Roger Kelly
Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.
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