Matias Syrjala, 17, is a foreign exchange student from Finland who is spending this year attending Stephenville High School as a junior. He is staying with Stephenville assistant athletic director and head athletic trainer Mike Carroll and his wife, Denae.
Syrjala's primary sport in Finland is ice hockey, and he used to play soccer. But it wasn't until arriving in Stephenville that he began playing football as a member of the junior varsity white team. He recently learned the UIL has granted his request for varsity eligibility, meaning he can dress with the varsity team for the playoffs.
Syrjala, who also plans to play soccer here, flew down the field and made a physical tackle on a kickoff after a Stephenville touchdown in a recent JV victory over Breckenridge. He then ran to the sidelines and had this to say about football and his stay in America.
1) You just ran down and made that tackle. That had to be a thrill; how did it feel?
It feels good. I haven't played a lot and I never played football before, so it just proves that I can help, too.
2) What do you like most about football here?
It helped me make friends, that's the main thing. It's a good workout, and I really like the physicality.
3) You don't have sports at school in Finland; do you see it as an advantage having sports to participate in at school?
Yes because in Finland, it's all club teams. There aren't any sports at school so there is nothing to bring everyone together like we have here. So many more people get involved here because of the sports.
4) Compare schoolwork here to that in Finland. Which is more difficult?
It's actually a little easier here than in Finland. I was surprised because I thought it might be harder until I got here, but it's easier.
5) What are your plans when you return home after your school year here?
I have two more years of school because I have to make up the year I missed to come here. Then, I go to the Army. Everyone in Finland has to go to the Army.