Porvoo Butchers QB Jabari Harris balances football, family and aerospace engineering for dream life in Finland

For most American imports, playing football in Europe is an exciting but brief adventure. For the most part, they are young, single and childless, able to live off of the humble paychecks from their gridiron exploits. Few stick around long.

Jabari Harris doesn’t have that typical story. Seven years after his first arrival in Finland, the Porvoo Butchers’ quarterback has formed a life around the Finnish capital of Helsinki. Like many imports who ultimately choose to put down roots in Europe, it was a decision made because of a girl. Unlike most, that girl was his newborn daughter.

“After my first two years, I ended up becoming a father. I have three children now, two girls and one son. That was a no brainer that at that point I was going to stay here and raise my children,” Harris said about his decision to make a home in Helsinki.

“It’s pretty safe with a lot of benefits for the kids and once I found a job outside of football, I just decided that I’ll stay. I go back and forth home to visit my family, but I’ve just found my place in society here.”

For a kid from Jackson, Mississippi, it’s a life that would have seemed like some sort of fantasy growing up. He didn’t even have a concept that playing in Europe might be an option until his senior year at MidAmerica Nazarene University when a coach who had played in NFL Europe told him to investigate it.

“I was like most of the Americans, I knew CFL and NFL but I never knew anything about Europe. Once he introduced me to it, I started to do some research,” Harris recalled. “I started to randomly find guys on the internet that were playing, checking out some of their photos and everybody just seemed like they were having so much fun. Me personally, I always wanted to travel, so once I started to get contacted by teams in Europe, I basically took the first offer that I got at the time.”

Porvoo Butchers #1 Jabari Harris Photo: Samppa Toivonen / APOLLO PHOTO

That offer came from the Butchers, but Harris hasn’t been there for his entire seven-year career. He initially left Finland to play for the Bialystok Lowlanders in Poland, shuttling back and forth before returning full-time to Helsinki after two seasons. Since then, he’s played for teams across the city, including the 69ers, East City Giants, Roosters, and Wolverines.

In 2020, he was supposed to play further afield with the Rovaniemi Nordmen but opted to stick closer to home lest COVID strike him or his young family. That prompted a reunion with Porvoo, who needed his help after opting not to bring in any imports for their shortened Maple League season. After so long in country, Harris now counts as a Finnish player.

Staying in Helsinki is important to Harris for another reason as well, his career outside of football. Unlike many settled imports who find their line of work in athletic fields like personal training or choose to operate their own businesses, the quarterback has a profession that few might expect. He’s a full-time aerospace engineer, building satellites for orbit.

“We do a lot of work for the Finnish, Polish and US government. I’ve been a part of the team that actually hands-on builds the satellites. I’m a satellite manufacturing technician, that’s what my role is. I help with the designs and actually building these things, so it’s definitely a demanding job and it has taken a lot of energy to try to balance things,” Harris acknowledged.

“I need to go to the gym. I need to go to practice. I need to coach juniors. But I’m young, I’m 29, and I just want to try to make the most of it because I know that this is rare. I’m hoping that it can inspire other guys that want to come to Europe to know that it’s possible to settle down here and build something outside of football as well.”

Of course, Harris can’t do it all by himself. It requires buy-in from his entire family, but with their support, he’s able to manage the incredible workload.

“It takes a lot of teamwork. I have to give credit to my family for being able to support me and allow me to make the practices, the grandparents for pitching in a lot to be able to help out with the kids,” he said. “For me, it’s just perseverance. After playing college football, you learn how to manage a lot of things so I feel like for me, my mindset never changed from transitioning into college to here. The only thing that changed was it went from schoolwork and doing exams to building satellites and going to practice.”

Butchers QB Jabari Harris #1 eluding Kuopio Steelers defender Photo: FSC Media

None of that life would have even been possible if it wasn’t for the Butchers organization offering him his first contract seven years ago. Now back with the team for a second straight season, Harris is soaking in just how special that reunion really is.

Head coach Jim Nendel has the team firing on all cylinders this season, preaching a message of community and compassionate love that resonates deeply with his quarterback. Harris is playing some of the best football of his career, with the team sitting third in the Maple League thanks to a tight-knit locker room that he describes as nothing short of “magical.”

“If you look at our roster, me and a lot of the guys have known each other for seven years because they were either juniors when I started or young athletes like me at the time. We just enjoy playing together and that is reflected on the field,” said Harris. “Obviously there are other teams like the Roosters or Kuopio that may have a lot more experience, a lot more national team players, but I think that our strength has been believing in each other.”

Porvoo plays the top-seeded Kuopio Steelers on Saturday, a game that in years past would have felt like a write-off but no longer does. The Butchers are a team that can be taken for granted by no opponent and Harris is a quarterback whose career and life are blossoming in a way he would have never thought possible. That is something he is grateful for every single day.

“As a kid growing up in the south, I never would have imagined that I would be able to spend all of my 20s after college building a life and a career here in Finland. It’s a dream,” Harris emphasized. “A lot of times we feel that we want to go to the NFL, but for me being able to leave the country and to leave those situations faced in Jackson and to be able to create a positive atmosphere for myself and my children, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, man.”

Watch the Porvoo Butchers play the Kuopio Steelers on AFI.tv on Saturday, August 14, 16:30 CET (4:30 pm, 10:30 am ET).

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.