Sweden’s Jordan Genmark-Heath embracing college football’s spotlight

Down 34-24 with under 10 minutes remaining, the UCLA Bruins were desperate for a spark against the number 10 ranked Oregon Ducks. With things looking bleak, an unlikely hero stepped up as Swedish linebacker Jordan Genmark-Heath leapt high and snatched a pass out of the air and returned the interception to the Ducks 19-yard line. The clutch turnover injected supercharged energy into the stadium bringing 55,675 fans to their feet as the game’s momentum swung right back to the home team. Thousands cheered as the European had just made the biggest play of the day during college football’s game of the week.

Unfortunately, the Swede’s interception was not enough as the Ducks escaped Los Angeles with a razor-thin 34-31 victory. However, for the fifth-year senior making big plays on college football’s biggest stage in something he’s been working toward since he was 13.

Jordan Genmark Heath smiling in warmups: Photo UCLA Athletics

“It’s been a journey,” he said. “Who would’ve thought I’d be here, where I am today.” (via OC Register)

Before playing at the top level of college football, Genmark-Heath began his football journey by playing with the Arlanda Jets near Sweden’s capital. As a 13-year-old in Stockholm, Gemark-Heath quickly became obsessed with American football. The Scandinavian defender commented on his developing his skills in what is still a niche sport in Sweden.

“I learned through YouTube. Even though it’s a small sport we had about 600 kids playing. It was definitely a good time. I fell in love with the sport extremely early. My dream was to play high school football.” (via OC Register)

Jordan Genmark Heath picks up the loose ball Photo: Jan Kim Lim

Soon thereafter, those dreams became reality as the Stockholm native moved halfway across the globe to sunny San Diego. The dream of Friday night lights quickly changed to Saturday afternoons as college coaches began courting the Cathedral Catholic standout. Listed as a four-star prospect, the former Arlanda Jet picked up several offers from powerhouse programs such as California, Vanderbilt, and Boston College.

Initially, the foreign exchange student committed to Cal before their coaching staff was dismissed shortly after the 2016 season. Fortunately for him, a late scholarship offer and a January visit swayed Genmark-Heath to join one of college football’s most prestigious teams, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

After his freshman season, Notre Dame’s coaches switched promising safety to linebacker. The move would pay off as the newly converted defender saw more playing time as a versatile linebacker with excellent coverage skills. The move from the secondary to the physical role of a linebacker felt right at home for the hard-hitting sophomore.

“I gained about 30 pounds,” Genmark-Heath said about switching positions. “It’s a lot of weight to gain so I had some bad weight and was a bit puffy in the face.

“It took me a while to be confident and comfortable with playing in the box, but this is the position where I belong.” (via OC Register)

After three seasons with the Irish, Genmark-Heath had played in 39 games racking up 42 tackles while making a name for himself as a core special teamer. After graduating in 2020, the former San Diego resident transferred back to the Golden State joining the UCLA Bruins for his final year of NCAA eligibility.

Since arriving in the Bruins program the college football veteran has shined in his new role as the UCLA’s starting outside linebacker. Through nine games this season, Genmark-Heath is second on the team with 43 tackles. Besides solid tackling the former Fighting Irish player has also wreaked havoc on opponents with two fumble recoveries, one and a half sacks, and an interception. The savvy vet has also taken on a leadership role with a young Bruins team eager to earn themselves a prime-time bowl game.

Off the field, the Notre Dame graduate is now studying Education and Information Studies at UCLA’s Graduate School. While focusing on his final college football season and a challenging master’s degree, the Bruins do-it-all linebacker still has one eye set on an NFL future.

 “I’ll be able to finish my master’s by the fall and my plan is to declare for the league.” (via OC Register)

Sitting at 5-4, the UCLA Bruins and Genmark-Heath still have goals of a major bowl victory. Entering a tough stretch of conference play the Bruins will be leaning on their favorite Swede to make some big plays. Genmark-Heath’s strong season should garner the interest of scouts as he fits well in the mold of the new age speedy linebacker, currently trending on Sunday afternoons.

Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football