ELF: Homegrown Hero Series – Vienna Vikings standout rookie Elmeri Laalo

The semifinals are upon us in the European League of Football. As four teams remain looking to raise the 2023 trophy, we’ll continue to highlight the league’s best international players, as 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 and maybe even becoming champions this season.

The ELF’s defending champion Vienna Vikings look to hoist the trophy once again this season after a dominant 2022 had Austria’s premier team celebrating a new title in their first year in the European League of Football.

This year the Vikings may just be better as they earned a playoff bye week and will host the Stuttgart Surge in the Semi-finals this weekend. One of many new wrinkles to the Vikings this year has been Finnish defensive back Elmeri Laalo.

A 6 ‘4 210-pound defensive back Laalo brings size and versatility to the Vienna defense in a new and impactful way. So far this season, Laalo has recorded 47 tackles, two tackles for a loss, seven pass break ups, and three interceptions including a pick six in ten games.

His impact on the Vikings season has not been unnoticed as the young Finn was recently nominated by the ELF as one of three candidates for Defensive Rookie of the Year. 

The 22-year-old Laalo is a product of Helsinki’s budding football scene in Finland, playing several seasons of the Helsinki Wolverines in the capital city. After a standout season in the Maple League in 2022, Laalo also became an impact player for Finland’s Men’s National team, helping them qualify for the European Championship Gold Medal match to be played against Team Austria and many of his Viking Teammates this October. 

Laalo initially spent the last two years looking to make the jump to the US and play college football before taking his talents abroad for the first time this season in the ELF.

Laalo 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?

Laalo: I started playing football trough my dad, he’s been playing my whole lifetime

AFI: What is your goal through the sport?

Laalo: My goal with football is to reach my max potential as a player.

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

Laalo:  My Favorite football memory is probably 2021 making my men’s national team debut and beating france in the bronze game

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

Laalo: There is a lot of young talent in Finland, but there is room for improvement in a lot of Finnish football programs.

AFI: What made you choose the Vikings this off season? 

Laalo:  The Vikings were the only elf team to contact me so it was a pretty easy choice.  

 It’s been awesome to be one of the guys representing Finland in the ELF. I think all of us have done a pretty good job at it.

AFI: How’s it been being part of the Vikings this year? 

Laalo: It’s been great so far, it’s been an honor to represent an organization like the Vikings.

AFI: What do you do outside of football? 

Laalo: I like to play other sports when I have time and chance to do that.

AFI: What would a championship mean to you this year? 

Laalo: Championship would mean everything for me. At this point obviously every other result would be a disappointment.

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