Tyler Varga’s International Roots Have Carried Him To the NFL

He was born in Sweden, holds a Canadian and Finnish passport, speaks English, French and Swedish and has deep Croatian roots and now he is playing in the NFL.

Tyler Varga is the first Canadian/Finnish/Swedish/Croatian player with those bonafide roots to make it to the NFL. He played in his first regular season NFL game with the Indianapolis Colts this past weekend, and although did not get the same fanfare as Australian Jarryd Hayne in his first game with the San Francisco 49ers, Varga garnered about as much praise from his coaches for his play.

Colts head coach Chuck Pagano during his postgame media conference.

“I thought he did well. I thought he did the same thing we saw in the pre-season. The guy can make plays. He’s tough as nails. The game isn’t too big for him. He went out there and he did a good job blocking,”

On a day when the Colts offense did not look terrific, Varga saw significant playing time. He took a few kick returns – one he returned 30 yards – and subbed in for veteran Frank Gore at tailback in the second quarter. Varga rushed once for two yards in the Colts’ 27-14 loss and also caught one pass for 18 yards that briefly showcased his ability to spin off defenders.

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He was, perhaps, their most effective special teams player, returning two kickoffs for 53 yards (26.5 average), his longest going for 30 yards while also registering a special-teams tackle.

A graduate of Yale University, Varga’s path to the NFL has taken him on a slightly circuitous route but his determination and pedigree has carried him into the highest level of football in the world, not necessarily against all odds, but pretty close to it.

He was born in Stockholm, Sweden but his mother Hannale Sundberg is Finnish and her family still lives in Finland. So he has a Finnish passport. His father John Varga is Croatian and the couple subsequently moved back to Canada (John had moved to Canada when he was 10) when Tyler was an infant.

Both John and Hannale are elite athletes in their own right, John a bodybuilder (he was Mr. Ontario) and Hannale a bodybuilder, rugby player (played on Sweden’s national team) and alpine skier, and it seems they have passed on their genes to Tyler. The 5-foot-11, 225-pound tailback sports a superhero-like physique and began his own sporting life as a competitive gymnast. He narrowly avoided a leg amputation after a serious football injury as a teen, and overcame it to play at the University of Western Ontario and then at Yale.

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He electrified the Ivy League, while also earning an evolutionary biology degree, striving toward a career in orthopedic medicine at a university more known for producing billionaires, doctors and U.S presidents than pro athletes.

Some projected Varga as a late-round NFL Draft pick at best but he went undrafted. The Colts scooped him up as a free agent, and he proceeded to nab the 53rd spot on the roster.

His performance in his debut was impressive and he has made his mark as a player the Colts will no doubt continue to develop after his surprising surge helped him land a spot on the 53-man roster.

Needless to say, all football eyes in Canada, Finland, Sweden and Croatia will be on Tyler Varga as he carries the hopes of four nations into every NFL game he plays. It doesn’t look as if he will have any problems handling the pressure.

Photos: zimbio.com (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America) and the coltsroundup.com.

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.