WVU DL Eddie Vesterinen Shares Long Road to West Virginia
West Virginia defensive lineman Eddie Vesterinen began his dream of playing football just like many others, first getting the itch to play whenever he was young.
Years of hard work and dedication, success and failure, happiness and sadness and a 4,346-mile journey turned a kid from Helsinki, Finland, into the big No. 96 that fans see on the Mountaineers sidelines.
Vesterinen’s story of eventually putting on a West Virginia uniform began when he was 14, after seeing a big football hits compilation video on YouTube.
“I thought, ‘This is really cool,’” Vesterinen said of the video during a news conference on Tuesday. “I was like, ‘Wow. People really get to do this, hitting hard like that.’”
One video inspired Vesterinen to immediately look up the local club team in Helsinki and begin playing a short time after.
He initially joined an under-15 league just for fun, where teams played 11-on-11 like in the United States. After two years, Vesterinen moved up to the men’s league, where he matched up against older players, some aged between 20 and 30 and with college experience.
“There were more teams and it was more competitive, that’s how I got better,” Vesterinen said. “The one thing I noticed at first was the speed difference. I remember the first rep and how fast the ball was snapped. The (offensive) line moved more quickly.”
As his skillset improved, Vesterinen began to get more confident in his aspirations of possibly playing football at a higher level, which came with help from his peers in Finland.
“Everyone was telling me, ‘You need to go overseas and play football because you’re really good at this,’” Vesterinen said. “That’s how I got into having a dream like this.”
Vesterinen then attended a camp in Helsinki hosted by Brandon Collier, the founder of PPI Recruits, a program that helps foreign players get scouted by colleges in the United States. Vesterinen’s performance at the camp helped him get on a tour to come to the U.S. to gain more exposure.
He was also required to complete one year of mandatory military service in Finland after graduating high school. The service must be completed before Vesterinen turned 30 years old, but he made the decision to finish it as quickly as possible. Vesterinen was also allowed to move to a special sports unit at the academy, where he trained and practiced.
But, Vesterinen hit his first road bump when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
“It was depressing,” Vesterinen said. “I thought my dreams were gone. I had a visit to UMASS (Massachusetts) before COVID, then they stopped talking to me. I thought they wouldn’t end up recruiting guys from Europe because of COVID.”
Vesterinen also received his first official offer to Coastal Carolina, but it was rescinded after a change in the coaching staff.
This all came as a surprise, as Vesterinen knew very little about the college recruiting process.
“I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about football,” Vesterinen said. “I didn’t understand how the business side went. I was upset, but I kept working.”
Vesterinen also utilized his friends — Colorado defensive end Chris Mulumba and former Eastern Michigan defensive end Ville Valasti — as resources, leading to finding his eventual home in Morgantown.
He noted that Finland has now produced around a half-a-dozen college players over the last handful of years, with Alabama offensive tackle Olaus Alinen as one of the top names. West Virginia currently has three other players on its roster hailing from Europe — Victor Wikstrom (Sweden), Aric Burton (Germany) and Jairo Faverus (The Netherlands).
Vesterinen is now entering his third season with the Mountaineers, holding hopes of continuing to make great strides within the program, where he even earned the nickname “Eddie V”.
As a sophomore last fall, Vesterinen appeared in 12 games, totaling 10 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack. He is expected to step into a more prominent role for the Mountaineers this year.
“My friends were my mentors in the process,” Vesterinen said. “They showed me what to do and how to get playing time. The last couple year, I’ve improved in my consistency, details of my technique and situational awareness. I’m making big steps forward.”
Vesterinen has still been creating all of this success for himself without having his family nearby.
His parents, Seppo Vesterinen and Iveta Aaltonen, are still cheering him on from Finland. Eddie Vesterinen said they are beginning to understand football by seeing pictures and videos. His mother also stays up until 2 or 3 a.m. to watch every Mountaineers game on television.
Vesterinen said he has plans to bring his parents to Morgantown for a visit this year. Until then, he will continue to use the family vibe he has gotten from all of his teammates.
Jalen Thornton took Vesterinen under his wing to get accustomed to the Mountaineers locker room. Vesterinen even spent the 2022 Easter holiday in Jackson, Ohio, with Treylon Davis.
“I had to show my parents I was willing to take the step to be independent,” Vesterinen said. “I wanted to chase my dreams. I had to step aside from their shelter to experience new things.”
In the eyes of Eddie V, it seems he is satisfied being in Blue and Gold.