Danish lineman Steven Nielsen excited for chance to face opponents in Canada

Historians believe the first person of Danish ancestry arrived in Canada over a 1000 years ago, one of the Norse explorers who briefly settled on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland at the Viking site known as L’Anse aux Meadows.

Forget what you know about Vikings; Canada’s next Danish invader is much more threatening.

At least if you’re a defensive lineman that is.

Standing at nearly 6’8 and 323 pounds, Steven Nielsen looks like the type of Dane who could fill the hearts of coastal peasantry with abject terror. It’s his type of unique frame and skillset that the Canadian Football League was hoping to find when they launched their Global program in 2019 and the Edmonton Football Team will reap the rewards, selecting the hulking offensive tackle with the second overall pick in the 2021 Global Draft.

“It was very exciting and, to be honest, I was a little bit surprised I got picked second overall,” Nielsen said of his draft day experience. “I mean I was expecting to go high just from my experience, but second overall is a dream come true and I’m just excited to get up there and help Edmonton anyway I can.”

Nielsen has grown used to being rewarded for his one in a million body type but growing up outside Copenhagen, that size and physicality often worked against him. Whether it was soccer or handball, he never quite could fit in.

“I just never found a sport that suited me. I was too big and I was too aggressive. I kept getting penalties,” Nielsen explained.

Then his older brother picked up the foreign sport of American football and Nielsen was hooked.

“I watched him play for about a year and I just fell in love with the sport. I started playing and I just kept falling more in love with it. It’s amazing and I’m still falling in love with this sport,” he beamed.

That love was quickly backed up by real talent. Nielsen worked his way onto the Danish National team and eventually, like his Viking forebears, crossed the ocean in search of opportunity. He played his final two years of high school at La Lumiere High School in La Porte, Indiana, becoming a team captain as a senior.

Photo: Eastern Michigan

From there, Nielsen was recruited by the University of Eastern Michigan and quickly exceeded expectations for the Eagles. The former two-star recruit rose to the starting lineup during his true sophomore season and never relinquished the role, starting every game for the next three seasons at one of the two tackle spots.

A third team All-MAC selection in 2018, Nielsen played well enough to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars after the 2020 NFL Draft. He was cut in August as the COVID-19 pandemic forced training camp roster shrinkages but now has the chance to continue his career in Canada, something he particularly relishes after a year away.

“I’m just excited to play football again. It’s been a while since I put on the helmet and could go bully around some guys,” Nielsen smiled.

During his year off, the Danish mauler has taken the time to familiarize himself with the ins and outs of the Canadian game. Now faced with a one yard neutral zone, Nielsen knows there will be some adjustments to how he has to play.

“I like to play aggressive in the pass game as well. I like to get on guys and bully them around but it’s going to be harder now with that yard in between. I’m definitely going to have to adjust to settling back and being more patient,” he explained.

The style of game will also be a change of pace. While Nielsen faced his share of power rushers in the MAC, speed is the name of the CFL game, something some have questioned about the Danes‘ skillset.

“I haven’t been worried about it, but I definitely know it’s something that I have to prepare for. I know it’s different from college,” Nielsen admitted. “Where I played, you have some bigger guys and they can take you with speed too, but from what I’ve heard the CFL is all about speed. It’s definitely something I have to get used to and adjust to.”

A move inside to guard may be a possibility, but it won’t be a necessity. Some CFL scouts see Nielsen as a potential Day One starter, something that would be huge for the Global program, and Edmonton clearly agrees.

While the CFL season is expected to be postponed to late summer, Nielsen will be ready for his chance to make history.

“It’s out of my control, so I’m just going to put that in the back of my head. I’m just going to keep training and just keep saying staying in shape and whenever the opportunity there happens, then I’m going to be ready to go.”

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.