/seasons/2011/contrib/20110826pjtb08

From Finland to UW-Stout

More news about: UW-Stout
Antti Kurennemi
"Like hockey, it is a contact sport and you get to hit people." -- Antti Kurenniemi 

Antti Kurenniemi got his first look at American football when he watched the 2005 Super Bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots on television. He was hooked.

Now, the UW-Stout exchange student from Tampere, Finland, is making his bid for playing time with the Blue Devil football team as a cornerback.

"I found the game so fascinating," Kurenniemi said. "There is a tactical side that is more complex than where I was playing hockey. Like hockey, it is a contact sport and you get to hit people."

Like many Finnish youngsters, Kurenniemi grew up playing hockey and he played hockey for 17 years before putting on the football pads three years ago for a hometown team.

"I started playing hockey at a young age, but I wasn't real talented at it," Kurenniemi said.

Kurenniemi played two years with the Tampere Saints, starting off as a running back in a wishbone formation. He made the switch to defense when the team moved to an I-formation and was the odd man out. Injuries on the defense allowed him to move to cornerback, a spot Kurenniemi found more to his liking.

The Saints were a member of Finland's top tier of eight teams for two seasons. But before the start of the 2011 season, injuries took their toll and the team was forced to drop a couple competition levels.

Kurenniemi wanted to play top-tier ball and went 200 miles to the hometown of his father to find it, playing for the Rajaritarit (Border Knights) from Lappeenranta.

"I wanted to keep playing at the top level," Kurenniemi said, explaining there are three levels of American football in Finland. Kurenniemi played nine games this past spring and summer for the Border Knights before coming to the United States.

A mechanical engineering student at the Tampere University of Applied Sciences, Kurenniemi was looking at coming to the United States on an exchange program. His university had a partnership with two schools – Bemidji State University and UW-Stout.

Kurenniemi had to apply and be accepted by the program and was only asked to rank the two schools in the order he preferred to attend. Stout was his first choice, and he couldn't have been happier when he was assigned to attend Stout.

"I am happy they put me here," said Kurenniemi, who arrived at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport two days before Stout's football camp began. "Everyone has been so interested in Finland and they have been so helpful and nice. I was only allowed two suitcases, so the team helped me out with some things I couldn't bring."

While Kurenniemi was interested in playing football during his stay in the States, he did not contact Stout coach Clayt Birmingham until after he had been accepted to Stout. The coach asked Kurenniemi to send some game tape.

"He contacted us and he sent some film over the internet," Birmingham said. "He was a decent player over there and we wanted to make this a good experience for him."

"I got into school first, then pursued the football," Kurenniemi said. While at Stout for just the single semester, Kurenniemi plans to take some classes in industrial management, a few physical education classes and some American history courses.

Classes have not yet started, but the learning curve for Kurenniemi has started on the football field. Fluent in English, he is just working to process all of the football information he is learning.

"I am pleased with my own progression, but I have a lot to learn," Kurenniemi said. "I have learned so much that I haven't been able to translate everything to the field.

"The pace of the game is faster here, and there is competition for every position. Here there is actually a second string, third string, fourth string. At home, everyone who wants to get in (to the game) does."

"We didn't know what we were going to get when he came in here," said co-defensive coordinator Travis Destache, who works with the defensive backs. "We were really surprised. Athletically, he has all of the tools. He has definitely moved up the depth chart and hopefully we can get him onto the field."

"I didn't expect to play," Kurenniemi said. "I am just happy to get an opportunity to practice. I have done much better than I expected."

Kurenniemi would like to translate his experience at Stout into more playing time when he returns home. Kurenniemi did not make the roster of the Finnish national team and has his sites set on making the 2014 team.

Destache said Kurenniemi has fit in very well with the team.

"He is learning tons, but our guys are learning tons from him," Destache said. "At the end of practice, during stretching, the defensive backs are all learning a Finnish word of the day."

Birmingham, who has made several trips to Europe to promote and teach American football, believes having Kurenniemi as part of the program is good for both sides.

"It is great to have him here," Birmingham said. "This is just another, different experience for our players as well."

Sep. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Framingham State 50, Massachusetts Maritime 7
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Muhlenberg 56, at Juniata 40
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at Dean 25, Becker 10
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Salisbury 27, at TCNJ 7
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MIT 38, at Catholic 21
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Merchant Marine 56, at Maine Maritime 31
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at Hobart 34, Endicott 17
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at Morrisville State 44, Nichols 22
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at Delaware Valley 27, Stevenson 7
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at Albright 9, Widener 7
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Christopher Newport 16, at Montclair State 8
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at Westminster (Pa.) 41, Bethany 14
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Middlebury 41, at Bowdoin 14
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Williams 24, at Colby 7
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Amherst 36, at Hamilton 6
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Ursinus 35, at Moravian 17
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Trinity (Conn.) 51, at Bates 0
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at LaGrange 38, Brevard 28
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Geneva 33, at Thiel 24
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at Plymouth State 37, Mass-Dartmouth 7
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Kean 28, at Southern Virginia 14
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Frostburg State 24, at Rowan 10
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Union 17, at Curry 14
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at Carnegie Mellon 37, Thomas More 17
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Lycoming 44, at King's 41
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at Western New England 21, Husson 14
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Johns Hopkins 41, at Dickinson 10
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at DePauw 51, Wooster 24
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at Ohio Wesleyan 37, Allegheny 21
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at Misericordia 43, Wilkes 14
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at Alfred 45, Rochester 7
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Wesley 66, at William Paterson 0
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at N.C. Wesleyan 35, Maryville (Tenn.) 25
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Huntingdon 31, at Ferrum 28
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at McDaniel 27, Gettysburg 20
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at Buffalo State 33, RPI 21
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Franklin and Marshall 27, at Susquehanna 24
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at Denison 45, Oberlin 17
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at Northwestern (Minn.) 10, Westminster (Mo.) 7
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at Eureka 44, Crown 20
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at Lebanon Valley 24, FDU-Florham 14
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at Heidelberg 47, John Carroll 21
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at Ohio Northern 35, Otterbein 7
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at Mount Union 55, Baldwin Wallace 7
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at Rose-Hulman 37, Defiance 14
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at Marietta 49, Muskingum 25
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Franklin 59, at Bluffton 30
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at Hanover 64, Anderson 21
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Mount St. Joseph 31, at Manchester 14
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Worcester State 34, at Westfield State 10
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Coast Guard 13, at Norwich 9
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at Fitchburg State 31, Bridgewater State 29
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Wittenberg 48, at Kenyon 11
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at Wabash 25, Hiram 21
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North Central (Ill.) 51, at Millikin 21
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Final
at Millsaps 17, Sewanee 13
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at Rhodes 35, Birmingham-Southern 9
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Final
at Hendrix 36, Austin 24
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at Martin Luther 34, Greenville 20
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Final - OT
at Trinity (Texas) 41, Chapman 35
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Final
at Loras 73, Buena Vista 34
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at Wartburg 30, Washington U. 20
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Final
at Gustavus Adolphus 51, Hamline 7
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Final
Augsburg 48, at Carleton 28
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at Bethel 64, St. Olaf 7
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at Luther 21, Dubuque 17
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at Central 52, Nebraska Wesleyan 27
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Simpson 38, at Coe 33
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Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 40, at Elmhurst 15
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Final
St. Norbert 66, at Grinnell 13
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at Knox 13, Ripon 6
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at MacMurray 32, Iowa Wesleyan 14
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Hardin-Simmons 63, at Howard Payne 3
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Southwestern 37, at Louisiana College 34
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Monmouth 26, at Macalester 0
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at St. Thomas 20, St. John's 17
@ Target Field, Minneapolis
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at Springfield 42, WPI 10
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at Cornell 55, Beloit 36
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at Brockport 28, Utica 14
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Final
at Hartwick 24, St. John Fisher 21
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Final
at UW-La Crosse 41, Carroll 6
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Final
at St. Scholastica 37, Minnesota-Morris 3
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Final
at George Fox 44, UW-Eau Claire 0
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at Western Connecticut 37, Salve Regina 23
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Final
at UW-Stevens Point 41, Adrian 28
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Final - OT
at Wesleyan 24, Tufts 17
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at Averett 35, Methodist 6
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at Berry 28, Centre 14
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Final
at Case Western Reserve 56, Waynesburg 21
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at Grove City 24, St. Vincent 14
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at Illinois Wesleyan 18, North Park 0
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Texas Lutheran 7
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Final
at UW-Platteville 56, Lakeland 22
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Final
Carthage 55, at Augustana 14
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Final
Chicago 28, at Illinois College 7
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at Sul Ross State 35, McMurry 7
Final - OT
at Wilmington 37, Capital 30
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Final
Lake Forest 42, at Lawrence 26
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at East Texas Baptist 79, Belhaven 40
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Final
Arizona Christian 56, at Whittier 38
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Sep. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Delaware Valley 27, Stevenson 7
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Final
Wesley 66, at William Paterson 0
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Final
at Alfred 45, Rochester 7
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Final
Johns Hopkins 41, at Dickinson 10
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Final
Frostburg State 24, at Rowan 10
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Final
at Heidelberg 47, John Carroll 21
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Final
at Mount Union 55, Baldwin Wallace 7
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Final
Wittenberg 48, at Kenyon 11
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Final
at Wabash 25, Hiram 21
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Hardin-Simmons 63, at Howard Payne 3
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Final
North Central (Ill.) 51, at Millikin 21
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Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 40, at Elmhurst 15
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Final
at St. Thomas 20, St. John's 17
@ Target Field, Minneapolis
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Final
at Brockport 28, Utica 14
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Final
at Case Western Reserve 56, Waynesburg 21
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Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 18, North Park 0
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Final
at UW-Platteville 56, Lakeland 22
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Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Texas Lutheran 7
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