ELF: Homegrown Hero Series – Finland’s Viking RB Karri Pajarinen

The final third of the European League of Football has arrived and the ELF’s third season has shown the promising development of many domestic players. With that in mind, the ELF Homegrown Hero series aims to shine a light on those players outside of the US and Canada making an impact on the ELF.

The defending champion Vienna Vikings are a great example of a team that develops the kind of homegrown talent that can bring home championships. One player on the Vikings this year, while not an Austrian homegrown has been a major player in their undefeated season to this point.

Karri Pajarinen is a 5’10 200-pound Finnish running back and one of a few European talents from outside Austria on the Vikings making big plays. While sharing carries with Anton and Florian Wegan, has racked up 362 yards and two touchdowns good for seventh in the league.

The veteran ball carrier is, however, no stranger to success. In 2022, Pajarinen was the German Football League’s top back last season rushing for 1,301 yards and 17 touchdowns for the runner-up Potsdam Royals in only 11 contests. Pajarinen’s hard running style led to him averaging 6.4 yards a carry and 118 yards a game as the Royals had the league’s top offense, earning GFL All-Star honors.

In 2021, Pajarinen ran for 259 yards and three touchdowns in five games for the Helsinki Roosters. In 2019, the Finn ended the season with 846 rushing yards, good for third in the league. Besides his skills on the ground, Pajarinen is also a skilled receiver out of the backfield.

Germany – 2022 – Oct. 8 – Potsdam RB Karri Pajarinen Photo Manfred Löffler

The Finn was a longstanding part of the powerhouse Helsinki Roosters after he began his football career at 13 years old, helping them win four straight Maple Bowls from 2016-2019. The 25-year-old was one of the Maple League’s top running backs for many seasons and a staple of the Finnish national team since 2017.

Karri Pajarinen sat down with us for a quick Q&A on his football journey and his thoughts on the 2023 season. 

AFI: How did you start playing football?

Pajarinen: Didn’t like ice hockey so had to figure out another sport to play.

AFI: What is your goal through the sport?

Pajarinen: Growth as a person, having unique experiences, meeting new people from all over the world and enjoying the privilege of getting to play football at this level.

IFAF – 2018 – ECs- August 4 – Sweden vs Finland Karri Pajarinen photo Samppa Toivonen

AFI: How does it feel to be representing Finland in the ELF?

Pajarinen: It’s a privilege to get to be an import in this league as it has such limited import rules. So, representing the talent pool we have in Finland does carry a significant importance.

AFI: What’s your favorite football memory so far?

Pajarinen: There’s a few, but probably my most favorite one is going for 400 yards and 8 touchdowns during recess in elementary school.

AFI: What’s the future of football in Finland?

Pajarinen: The overall outlook is positive. The level of play is steadily rising, and more and more kids are looking at real opportunities of getting to the US to play college ball at UNLV.

AFI: What’s it like being on a top team like the Vikings?

Pajarinen: Again, it’s a privilege. Not just being a part of such a great group of players and people, but the coaches, organisation, medical staff, waterboys and everything else just works on another level.

AFI: What’s the goal of the Vikings this season?

Pajarinen: 1-0, every week.

Alex is a former NCAA and semi-pro American football player who is now located in London, where he works in digital marketing. His goal in writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and