American Football is now an international sport, being played in over 85 countries around the globe. In previous articles, I have explained the concept of imports to the sport focusing on American players to further develop the game in foreign countries. But Americans are not the only type of Imports playing internationally. Some of the best American Football players in Europe are born with European nationality and can compete with the best around the world. Finland happens to have an abundance of top level European imports playing here and helping shape the sport. I was fortunate to get an interview with Belgian import Reuben De Ruyter of the Hameenlinna Huskies. Here’s what he had to say about his import experience.
THE BELGIAN BACKGROUND
Where are you originally from?
I’m from Ghent, Belgium. A very beautiful cultural city with a lot of history, now a big hub and university town in northwest Belgium. I keep telling people here Belgium has double the people and is only a 10th of the size. It puts things in perspective about Belgium compared to Finland. Love Belgium but very happy to be able to see the world and meet new people.
What positions do you play?
Receiver, Defensive back, and Returner/Athlete. This year in the Maple League I play receiver first, in the past I’ve played defensive back in Germany and for our national team (Belgium).
Where have you played previously?
Ghent Gators (BAFL, Belgium) – 2014
Leipzig Lions (AFVD, regional liga, Germany) – 2015
Carlstad Crusaders (Super serien, Sweden) – 2016
Belgian Barbarians (Belgian national team) – 2014, 2015, 2016
RUBEN DE RUYTER’S FOOTBALL JOURNEY
I’ve been in contact with Stan Bedwell since before last season, back then I decided to go play for the Crusaders in Sweden, at that point the Huskies were still in D1 and I felt the Super Serien was a better platform for me at the time. I had a good year in Sweden but still I was expecting more of myself, after the summer and playing with the national team I was looking to either go back to Karlstad, play in college, or the GFL. I talked to some teams but I didn’t feel like there was any real interest or offers. All this time I was talking to the Huskies, and pretty early in December I believe I made the decision to come play here (Hämeenlinna). I feel like it was a great opportunity for me to keep improving and also play at one of the highest levels in Europe.
I had a lingering knee issue since the summer that was misdiagnosed and after new pictures the advice I got was to get my meniscus scraped. This was about half of February and I got operated on the first of March. I had a really good operation and rehab. Ahead of schedule I was running around 30 days later right when I got here.
All through that and being a more knowledgeable strength coach I still had one of my best off seasons and I feel faster, stronger and more explosive than ever before. Always stayed positive and consistent and I’m seeing the results now, although there is always room for improvement and I’m striving to be a better athlete, football player, coach and person every day.
LIFE IN FINLAND
How do you like it in Finland?
Loving Finland, similar to Sweden, a lot of nature, very kind people, I feel very welcome in Hämeenlinna. I haven’t seen so much of the country yet, I’m always busy training because that comes first. But I’m starting to go places on my off days, trying to see new things and experience the culture.
I could mention the weather, which has been on and off this year but honestly I try to not worry too much about it, since I have no control over it. It messes up my plans now and then, but being flexible never hurt nobody. And it is getting better.
I feel like everyone would say that Finnish people are shy at first but once you get to know them they are very warm people. I’ve noticed some of that and people do look awkward at me when I just wave to someone on the street for no reason but most the people I’ve gotten to know here are open and engaging.
What is your go to meal in Finland?
Either eggs and vegetables or Beef, broccoli and sweet potato. I’m pretty boring when it comes to food. Love trying new things but consistency is key so I try to keep it healthy most of the time.
Do you spend a lot of time with Finnish teammates or on your own/with other imports?
Most of the Finnish guys obviously work during the day so we hang out a lot with the import guys, but I don’t feel like we are a separate group, during practices, team events and games everyone is involved.
FOOTBALL IN FINLAND
What level would you compare the football played in Finland to your native Country (Belgium)?
Belgian people will not like this, but the level is miles apart. We have a lot of good athletes in Belgium but the infrastructure, organization, and coaching is behind. I feel like some things are slowly changing for the better. The national team is creating some pressure on the league, and this year they finally restructured the leagues and divisions but there is still a lot of work to be done.
What do you see as some of the biggest differences between football in your country (Belgium) compared to Finland?
I know a lot of teams have 2-3 coaches so there is not really much practice scheduling going on, teams also practice in pads all year around and are very surprised when half the team is injured after a 6 game season. Player recruiting, a couple of teams are really organised with social media, promotion, organisation, coaching and those teams win games by 30 points easy all year there is a big gap between the top and bottom teams in the Belgian league.
What are your plans after the season concludes?
Go back to Belgium, ball out for the national team in the remainder of their schedule, study and become a better strength and conditioning coach, and save some money, haven’t figured anything out after that, time will tell…
Could you tell me an interesting story of your experience?
Played basketball for 12 years, started playing American football for some reason and since then in the past 3 years it has changed my life. It helped me figure out that I want to be a strength and conditioning coach, taught me countless life lessons, and it has shaped the person I am today.
What advice would you give to someone playing football in a different country for the first time?
Nobody rises to the occasion, they fall to the level of their training. So train hard, fight easy. In other words the harder you work the luckier you’ll get!
Can you sum up what American Football means to you?
Football is my platform and my passion, I love it!