Viktor Ekberg doesn’t get a lot of sleep.
The newly established starting quarterback for the Uppsala 86ers, not yet 20-years old, has to worry about strength training, film study, offensive installs and sometimes playing two games a week as he stars for both the Superserien’s 86ers and their Division One allies, the Arlanda Jets. All that while making his money while the rest of his teammates are fast asleep.
“Right out of high school, I started working nights,” Ekberg says, getting ready for work at 2:00 am Swedish time. “Trying to get sleep, go to the gym and go to practices have all been pretty tough now for a year.”
You wouldn’t know it seeing Ekberg on the field. In two starts, he’s thrown for 331 yards and two touchdowns, statistics that compare favorably to the imports guiding the rest of the Superserien squads. While he’s considered giving up his nocturnal lifestyle, Ekberg won’t allow himself to quit in any aspect of his life.
“At my job, its just like my football team. I enjoy the guys and I love working together,” he says. “I can’t quit on them because they are as much my family as my football team.”
That attitude sums up Ekberg in a nutshell. Committed, persistent and driven, his attitude seems to defy his youth and presents a quiet confidence that makes you want to follow him. It’s a recipe for a great quarterback, a path Ekberg was put on at a young age.
In Sweden, where the football infrastructure pales in comparison to the United States, most athletes aren’t exposed to the sport until later in childhood. Ekberg’s father had become a football fan while living in the US in the 1990’s and the two would pass the ball around growing up, but the possibility of playing organized football didn’t arise until a coach visited his school and asked the class full of ten-year-olds to join his new youth team.
“When I came home that day, I told my mom and dad that this guy had come to school and that I wanted to try-out. My mom immediately said no because she was afraid I was going to get injured,” recalls Ekberg. “My dad sort of agreed with her when we were together, but later that day he snuck me to practice. I just fell in love with it immediately.”
Already a promising floorball player, Ekberg dropped everything to become Sweden’s top homegrown passer. By 2016, he was on the Swedish national team and reaching the heights that most European youngsters only aspire to.
“When I was younger, that was all you wanted to do because you knew guys from all over Sweden that wanted to play against the Norwegians, the Fins, the Danish,” Ekberg explains. “We knew those guys too, so we wanted to beat them.”
In 2019, he capped his junior career by leading Sweden to the finals of the U19 European Championships, losing to Austria. Those early days on the national squad exposed him to a higher level of football and made him realize that to be satisfied, he had to be playing with the best.
“When you have a group of guys that want the same thing and are on the same level as you, that is so much more fun than just playing around,” Ekberg asserts.
Right now, what the quarterback wants is to lead Uppsala to their first win of 2020 but it will have to come in an elimination playoff matchup with the top ranked Stockholm Mean Machines. Ekberg isn’t daunted by that task.
“We have a lot of dudes on our team and the last time we played Stockholm, it actually felt like we were going to win,” he says.
That was Ekberg’s first Superserien start and he didn’t look uncomfortable making the jump from Division One, which Ekberg contends is not that far off from being Sweden’s top league. While early in the season, both he and coach Moe Kadkhodai agreed it would be unreasonable for him to play two full football games each weekend, a Division One bye week opened the door for him to take over the top team against the Mean Machines and he hasn’t looked back since.
It’s been a lot of football for one season, but it’s given Ekberg a chance to absorb more of the game from an mental perspective.
“Football is like chess, you’ve always got to be thinking ahead,” he muses.
“As an offensive player, you should almost know more about the defensive playbook than the offensive one. As a quarterback, you need to know where the defence is going to be before you snap the ball. Learning more about schemes and coverages has been this year’s priority.”
More challenging, however, has been the delicate task of assuming the quarterback’s mantle of leadership. At 19 and fresh out of high school, some of Ekberg’s teammates are nearly twice his age and aren’t likely to listen to a baby-faced teenager. The quarterback has earned their respect on the field, but he pays close attention to how he commands the offense so that he doesn’t alienate older players or bruise egos.
“I don’t try to be the boss, I try to be a leader. When I speak, I don’t say ‘do this’, I say ‘if we do this’,” Ekberg explains. “That’s one of the challenges I’ve had to navigate in order to be listened to.”
Not many teenagers have the opportunity, let alone the capacity to take on such a task and Ekberg hopes it can set him apart from other young players. He still dreams about getting noticed by a US college program but nothing has materialized. As a European quarterback, he faces real hurdles and some dismiss him due to his unusual six-foot-four, 265-pound frame.
“Being a big quarterback, you don’t get a lot of interest but I think I’ve shown the college scouts that I’m still fast and I can do stuff smaller guys can’t,” Ekberg says.
At a recent PPI combine, the massive pivot ran a 4.88 second 40-yard dash and turned heads in the season finale by hurdling a Black Knights defender with ease. Still, Ekberg believes the lack of US interest is partially his own fault.
“I’m not one of those types that posts a lot on social media and that’s part of the problem,” he admits. “They can’t see me if I’m not posting on Twitter and stuff.”
Ekberg is instead more focused on balancing the demands of work and football, while building a foundation for success for the conjoined 86ers and Jets. A victory on Saturday would be massive boost for their three-year united project and stunning for a winless team without imports. Insightful beyond his years on most topics, Ekberg couldn’t help but flash some youthful optimism in regards to his first career Superserien playoff start.
“I think we are going pull the upset, absolutely,” he predicts with a smile.
Not even the night shift can keep Sweden’s top young quarterback out of the spotlight.