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De Pere Redbirds welcome exchange student quarterback from Finland

Posted at 8:38 PM, Aug 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-15 21:38:26-04

DE PERE (NBC 26) — When Juulio Vahla arrived in Wisconsin after a 4,000+ mile journey from Espoo, Finland, he received a warm welcome at the airport.

"Our whole football team went over there, so we all got to meet him right away," De Pere High senior Carson Kulow said.

"I wasn't expecting that," Vahla said. "I didn't know about that, so it was great to meet all the football players right away, and, yeah, meet them in person."

Vahla came to Wisconsin as part of an exchange student program called, International Experience.

American football first came to Finland in a similar fashion via exchange students. The sport arrived in Finland in the late 1970s when Finnish students learned how to play it at American high schools, according to the website of the governing body of American football in Finland.

While Vahla said the sport is not big in Finland, he picked up 11-on-11 American football from his family.

"My dad talked about it and I thought it was pretty nice and cool," Vahla said "So then I started playing and I loved it."

Kulow, a safety for the Redbirds, said Vahla bonded with his new teammates in his first few weeks with the team.

"He's come a long way since we first met him. [He was] very shy right away, but he's opened up to a lot of people so looking for a great year with Juulio."

Head Coach Ben Strickland also said Vahla picked up the new system quickly.

"He's a kid that's engaging," Head Coach Ben Strickland said. "He's got some good arm talent, and just getting to know him a little bit, he picks things up quick."

Vahla, a quarterback, said he is feeling more at home on the team.

"They're been really nice and welcoming to me and it's been great so far," Vahla said.

The Redbirds take on Neenah on the road Thursday at 7 p.m. in the first Sports Showdown matchup of the season. The game will air live on TV 32 and