Wasa Royals aim for major improvement as Finland’s Maple League kicks off “post COVID-19 lockdown” season

The Wasa Royals will be looking for a much better season when they take the field Saturday, August 1, to face the Porvoon Butchers as Finland’s Maple League opens a historic “post COVID-19 lockdown” season.

As the only football league in the world, Finland’s Maple League will kick off the season with six teams. In fact, teams in Finland’s top league have been practicing in pads with full contact since the beginning of June.

The Maple League will play a truncated season with only half the number of regular season games, starting July 30 with Maple Bowl XLI scheduled to be played at Lahti stadium on September 12. Each team will play only five games during the regular season.

Wasa finished the 2019 season with a 4-8 record, its worst year since entering Finland’s premier division in 2016. That will change says Royals offensive coordinator John Booker:

“Overall we are trying to establish a standard of how we do things and build from there. We expect to get better and compete every week then let the chips fall where they fall on game days. But the main goal is to establish a process of constant improvement and maximize our ability every time we practice or play.”

With the return of their leading rusher in 2019, Tom Suoste who rushed for 796 yards in nine games last season, the Royals are designing a truly balanced offense.

“Our offense will be anchored by Tom “Cannon Ball” Suoste. Tom is a leader in our organization and we will lean on him heavily this season. We want Tom to touch the ball 25 times a game.”

Booker added Brandon Gwinner at quarterback after coaching him with the Brisbane Rhinos in Australia in 2019.

“Brandon is a lead by example guy that will set a physical tone in the run game. He protects the ball in the pass game and has the ability to make a play when things break down. Most important is he plays with a calm that allows the other guys to relax and just play ball.”

Gwinner spent four seasons at Morrisville State before joining Booker and the Rhinos. At Morrisville, he threw for 4,215 yards and 34 touchdowns in 26 games. He started the 2020 season with the Yeditepe Eagles of the Turkish League of American Football and managed to play and win one game before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the season.

The offensive line, anchored by Swedish national team lineman, Eric Blomgren, has undergone steady improvement according to Booker.

“Our offensive line is a good mix of experience and youth. I have been pleased with the progress we have made up front and look forward to the OL setting the tone for our offense. We will go as far as they take us the same as any other football team.”

Another Swedish national team player, wideout Nicholas Peterson, will lead the receiving corps.

Defensively, the Royals will rely on Martti Kass to anchor the defensive line and defensive back Viktor Mantry to lead the secondary with young linebacker Lamin Latikka stepping up after playing seven games in 2019:

“Lamin Latikka is a young player to look out for on the defense. He’s coming up from the U-20 and has shown a lot of consistency in practice.”

The Royals defense, run by head coach Stacey Thomas will be looking for a sharp improvement after giving up an average of 35 points a game in 2019. According to Booker, that will change:

“Defensively, Stacey has done a great job in finding what our young defense is good at. They fly around in practice and play with good energy.”

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.