Carlstad Crusaders LB Christian Kuylenstjerna ready to ‘bring the lumber’ in Swedish semi-final

Carlstad Crusaders linebacker Christian Kuylenstjerna isn’t used to the spotlight. Despite a list of previous accolades, the hulking linebacker is quick to deflect praise. Instead, he communicates on the field in a simple, understandable language.

“I play football because I like to tackle people. It’s kind of always been that way.”

Kuylenstjerna began his athletic career as a young hockey player, although he was always frustrated by Sweden’s ban on body checking for those under 13. After years of  anticipation and waiting, he found a purpose in the physical side of the sport.

“I was pretty bad on skates and bad with the stick, but I could lay some big hits,” he recalls, laughing.

On one fateful hockey outing, Kuylenstjerna crossed paths with athletes from a far less common contact sport, American football.

“I went to a school tournament and some guys from the local football team came to the school to recruit,” he explains. “Carl Carlson was one of the guys and he was huge! We all thought if you play football, you can look like that. That’s why I started.”

Carlstad Crusaders LB Christian Kuylenstierna #51 tracking down the ball carrier Photo: Stefan Akander

To say his love for the sport was instant would be an understatement. Without all the trouble of skating, football had all the physicality that Kuylenstjerna craved growing up.

“When I played hockey, all I wanted to do was tackle people so it fit pretty good,” he chuckles.

More than a decade later, Kuylenstjerna is one of Sweden’s top defensive stars and roams the middle of the Carlstad defense like a Scandinavian Brian Urlacher. At 240 pounds, he’s a physical tackler who takes pleasure in plugging gaps and laying hits. Through six games this year, Kuylenstjerna has racked up 49 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble and a blocked kick as the beating heart of the Crusaders defense. When asked about their success, Kuylenstjerna had little to say about himself but a lot of praise for the players around him.

“I think it’s a credit to our speed and that we are aggressive. We fly to the ball well so if someone makes a mistake, someone else is there to make a tackle,” he says. “Our defensive tackles, Marco [Gudding] and Aslan [Zetterberg], they are big dudes. Super strong and super fast. They give every O-line a hard time and that makes it easier for everyone else.”

Kuylenstjerna had 13 tackles and 2.5 sacks in the regular season finale shutout of the league leading Stockholm Mean Machines and while he got his share of licks in on quarterback Tim Morovick, the linebacker credits a simple strategy for his pass rushing success that game.

“I just try to get to the ball and if I’m supposed to pass rush then I try to get around those big dudes somehow. I don’t think I’m a good pass rusher really, I just try to run fast and get by them,” Kuylenstjerna laughs. “It’s always nice to get a sack because it gives a lot of energy to the defence, but I don’t really think about that when I play. I just play.”

The win against Stockholm was a massive confidence boost, given what happened the week before. Still in a battle for first place, the Crusaders lost to the Orebro Black Knights for the first time since 1999. Now set for a playoff rematch, Kuylenstjerna believes it was a crucial wake up call for his team.

“You always hate to lose a game, especially when it’s a streak like that. It hurts a little bit extra. When we watched the film, I think everybody felt we lost the game more than they won it,” he explains. “They played a good game, but we played a really bad one. I think it was good for us and gave us some energy and motivation to get after it going forward.”

Photo: Crusaders.se

Despite the loss, Kuylenstjerna has high expectations for their semi-final showdown.

“I think we should beat them everywhere,” he says confidently. “The new guy [Mike Gentili] is a good player, they have some good receivers, the quarterback [Jake Sissons] is decent and the British quarterback [Dammy Agbabiaka], he can run well. They have good enough players to make plays when we make mistakes but I don’t think they have that one player who can really hurt us if we just play our game.”

Cautious not to step on any toes, Kuylenstjerna insists that declaration isn’t meant to provide bulletin board material for the other side.

“We have a great team this year and when we play like we should, I don’t think anybody can beat us and I don’t think anyone should score on us,” he explains. “I think if you ask any player on any team, they would say the same thing. That’s football. If you do your job, you’ll be successful.”

When Kuylenstjerna speaks, it carries as much weight as his hits. The defensive leader knows his team has made plenty of mistakes this season but the Crusaders are a confident group heading into the playoffs with a win over Stockholm in their back pockets and he believes the sky is the limit for their potential.

Does that make them the favorites for the Swedish title?

“I’ll let the professional thinkers determine that but in my eyes we are the favourites,” Kuylenstjerna laughs. “If anybody says they don’t think their team will win, I don’t know why they’re playing.”

Winning means playing up to their abilities but Kuylenstjerna has a simple metric for what counts as a successful game for him personally.

“Just do my job and, if I’m lucky, make some tackles.”

That’s all he ever wanted to do anyway.

JC Abbott
J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.
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