Finland: 2023 Maple League Season kicks off

Football in Finland is back as the 2023 season features seven teams battling it out over a 12-game schedule for the Maple Bowl to be played in September.

Let’s break down each team as they head into the season.

Kuopio Steelers 2022 Record: 14-0 Maple Bowl Champions

The three-time defending champions Steelers head into 2023 beginning a sort of new era under returning head coach Pekka Utriainnen. The biggest change is at quarterback as the Steelers have opted to bringing young Finnish talent Ambro Urjansson .

The is a Finnish national team quarterback who has played excellently in international play. Urjansson will look to get the ball to new import receiver Vincent Mcdonald and returning talents Hannes Harju, Isaac Marshall, and Ville Lindsten. Of course the Steelers offense also brings back the league’s best railback in Leanthony Reasnover behind a strong offensive line featuring Roope Korhonen and new addition Luca Hebel.

Defensively, the Steelers add 2022 standout defensive lineman Jonis Heikkinen as well as former FAU (NCAA DI) linebacker Akileis Keke Leroy.The Steelers front seven will be strong as usual however, they will need their secondary to step after they lost several players from last year’s defensive back group during the off-season.

It is worth noting the Steelers did play one game already narrowling falling to the Swedish champion Stockholm Mean Machine in CEFL play on April 22nd.

Seinäjoki Crocodiles 2022 Record:  9-5 Maple Bowl Runner-Ups

After falling just short last year in the title game, the Crocodiles enter 2022 as one of the title favorites this summer. 

Seinäjoki returns quarterback Zachary Whitehead as well as dynamic running back Christian Powell. Powell enters his sixth season in Finland and will count as a Finnish player giving the Crocodiles an extra import spot yet to be filled. Powell is one of the league’s best offensive players and is looking to add to a record-breaking career this season. 

Powell, and receivers Joel and Janne Sarkela give Whitehead three experienced playmakers to get the ball too.

Defensively, Seinäjoki brings back defensive lineman Seth Zins and Filip Zacok as well as linebacker Saiduo Jallow and adds defensive back Eric Irvin and former Valdosta State (NCAA D2) defensive lineman Elijah Watson.

UNC Crusaders 2022 Record: 2-10

A new look Crusaders enter 2023 bringing in veteran receivers RJ Long and Cedric Johnson.  The two will look to build chemistry with new quarterback Cornelius Kinchen and 2022 Maple League standout running back Seth Rowland. 

Defensively, UNC added linebacker Dante Edwards along with boosting their trenches with the addition of Spanish and French national team offensive and defensive lineman Adrian Alvarez and Yves Koko respectively. New head coach Marko Vartainen has been recruiting domestic talent heavily as the Crusaders seem to be targeting the postseason this year. 

Wasa Royals 2022 Record: D1 Champions

The Royals return to the Maple League after spending 2022 in Finland’s 1st division, taking home the title with a strong core of young players. 

The Royals have brough back dynamic veteran Alpha Jalloh who will certainly create some huge plays for Wasa in all three phases. Jalloh has previously been one of the top playes in the Maple League and looks to create that same magic this year. Quarterback Timothy Morovick joins the Royals bringing years of experience in Europe and an exciting dual threat style. Morovick, Jalloh, and a core of strong  Finnish lineman and young playmakers should make this Wasa offense fun to watch. 

Defensively the Royals add West Florida and Baylor linebacker Demarco Artis and Dutch defensive lineman Arkady Naus (Cologne Centurions). The two bolster the front seven of a defense that returns domestic talents Victor Manty, Lamin Latikka, Rufail Khalifa, and Aaro Tuovinen. 

Helsinki Wolverines 2022 Record: 8-5

The Wolverines head into 2023 with new head coach Pekka Lamminsalo at the helm taking over for Michael Mattingly. Lamminsalo has opted to use Finnish quarterback Rasmuss Laalo as QB1, who recently won MVP of Finland’s first division but has very limited Maple League experience. The Wolverines also signed running back Edouard Wanada out of Western Ontario University as well as bringing back Wiliam Young who will likely be playing all over the field in 2023.

Helsinki will look to compete with a young core in 2023 as they seem to be looking to use 2023 to build experience across the roster.

Helsinki Roosters: 2022 Record: 8-5

Head Coach Juha Hakala returns to lead a young but promising Roosters team into 2023. The Roosters bring back several key domestic players in running back Lassi Pajarinen and speedy receiver William Kajander. 

They also add Canadian football duo quarterback Dimitri Sinodinos and receiver Pearce Dumay out of Quebec’s McGill University. The two look to bring their chemistry to the Maple League and help a young Helsinki offense put up points, behind offensive lineman Tonki Koskinen and Aho Aki.

Defensively, the Roosters have added American defensive tackle William Lidle and veteran James Perrineau to a stout defensive line. The team also brings back defensive end Camille Gruel and linebackers Olin Akseli and Taave Aronpaa, along with talented defensive back Akku Kattainen.

Porvoo Butchers: 2022 Record – 4-8

The Butchers have brought several exciting new additions to complement the core of young players as former Idaho State (NCAA DI FCS) linebacker Zach Wright and ex UNC-Pembroke (NCAA DII) and Arena football defender Bikembe Kearney bring speed and experience to the Butchers defense.

Offensively, the team returns Finnish football veteran Brandon Gwinner. Gwinner’s accuracy and dual threat style make him one of the more exciting passers in the league. He’ll be targeting a strong core of Finnish receivers in Sami Nikkinen, Phung Nguyen, Kristian Natunen, and longtime team leader Mikko Seppanan. The offense also adds veteran Micky Kyei and versatile H-back Asko Mantymaki.

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