In the world of American football, where brute force and strategic prowess collide, Finnish Minna Lehtinen is a force to be reckoned with. Participating this season inWFA Pro with theBoston Renegades, this remarkable athlete has delivered on her first season on the gridiron in the United States.
Alongside Minna is her fellow Wolverine running back Tytti Kuusinen who is playing her second consecutive season with the Renegades. Both Minna and Tytti are well known for their skills in the Finnish American football community.
Minna is playing her 8th season – before setting foot on American soil, she played with GS Demons Helsinki and once the two teams were united, in Helsinki Wolverines. Her skills and determination quickly caught the attention of the national team, leading to her inclusion in the Finnish national team since 2018. Representing her country at international tournaments, she has won European Championship Gold 2019 and Worlds Championship bronze 2023.
The Women’s Maple League – the highest league level of American Football in Finland – has awarded Minna as the Line Player of the year in 2020 & 2022 and the Defensive Player of the year in 2019. She has also been chosen in the all stars lineup of Maple League in years 2018-2022 – this year Minna was already chosen to the all stars lineup of the WFA.
Currently Minna, Tytti & Boston Renegades are preparing for their final game in the US, the WFA Pro National Championship game taking place 22nd July at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. The Renegades are playing for their fourth consecutive championship after an undefeated season.
Both Wolverines athletes have made memories to last a lifetime with the Renegades – for Minna her favorite achievements in the US team are not her own though: “Although I’ve had plenty of successes in the games, for some reason it’s the successful downs of my teammates – the great tackles, successful blocks and achievements that I’ve been able to witness at close – that stick in my mind the most. This is perhaps the great thing about team sports, that you can be as proud of yourself as you are of the players fighting alongside you.”
The violent art of defensive line
When Minna started playing football, she was asked if she wanted to tackle or catch balls – her answer was clear: “I said I want to tackle, that’s what we are here for”, Minna says.
Defensive line position demands an unwavering commitment to physicality and a willingness to endure the impact of the game in every play; each snap brings a physical confrontation, whether it is absorbing blocks, shedding offensive line players or delivering tackles.
“When I started playing football, I did not have a detailed understanding of different football positions and my own attributes and capabilities. During the years playing, it has become obvious my mental and physical qualities were made for the defensive line”, Minna describes.
Positioned at the forefront of the defensive unit, the defensive line serves as the first line of defense against the opposing team’s offense. The primary objective of the defensive line is to disrupt the flow of the game, penetrate the offensive line and create chaos in the backfield by pressuring and stopping the opponent’s quarterback and running backs. Athletes in the defensive line must have the strength to engage in physical battles with the offensive line and have the quickness to react to plays in a split second. The position requires a special blend of power, speed, agility and intelligence of the athlete.
“I would describe this position as a series of creative and instinctive actions performed within the boundaries of set rules. For example, compared to playing offensive line, which I have also had the possibility to try, I feel the defensive line is less controlled and there is more freedom to express myself”, Minna explains.
Playing on the defensive line requires mental toughness, discipline, and a commitment to the team’s success. Defensive line players often face double teams or constant attention from offensive linemen seeking to neutralize their impact – yet, their ability to withstand their ground, maintain composure, and create opportunities for teammates is what sets them apart.
Minna’s presence on the defensive line is nothing short of explosive, with 53,5 tackles listed for her this season in WFA. With lightning-fast reflexes and serious strength, she disrupts the carefully calculated offensive strategies of opponents, throwing their math into disarray. Her ability to read plays and anticipate movements allows her to burst through offensive lines like a hurricane, pressuring quarterbacks and shutting down running lanes. Her work ethic and energy on the field is contagious, igniting teammates home and abroad; Wolverines athletes have been truly pushed to be the best versions of themselves when practicing and playing with Minna.
As professional as possible
Beyond the athletic achievements, taking the trip to play in the US is an example of resilience and courage. Minna financed her journey herself, shouldering all the expenses involved with the help of a few sponsors, while balancing university studies and training. Minna’s accomplishments on the field are inspiring but her journey also serves as a reminder of the persistent inequality faced by athletes playing in women’s sport leagues worldwide. Despite her undeniable talent and dedication, she remains a university student (science, biology major) and a competitive athlete who receives no compensation for her contributions to the game. The limited opportunities for athletes playing in women’s sports leagues to play professionally serve as a stark contrast to the lucrative contracts and extensive resources available to their counterparts in men’s sports leagues.
Why would an athlete play a sport as physical as American Football with no compensation? Why would an athlete take the extra expenses to have the opportunity to play internationally? For sure all athletes who play American football in women’s leagues know the answer to the first question, as this is a team sport unlike any other that creates a feeling impossible to explain accurately in this short blog post.
For Minna, to play in the US was about the challenge and to see how she fares on the US gridiron – she also wanted to feel what it is like to play for a team as professional as possible. Certainly, any competitive athlete, particularly those engaged in competitive sports as a hobby without financial compensation, can easily relate to the emotions of pushing their limits and embracing the challenges that test both their mental and physical capacities.
The strides made by athletes like Minna and Tytti inspire hope for a more inclusive future. Increased visibility, support and investment in women’s sports leagues are crucial steps towards addressing the disparities and providing equal opportunities for all athletes, regardless of their gender. If you or your company want to be part of this change in Finland, you can contact your local American football team or the Finnish American Football Association to find ways to support.
The entire team, coaches and staff of the Wolverines wish the best of luck to Minna, Tytti & Boston Renegades to their Championship game. You are truly LIMITLESS. Minsku and Tytti, we are so proud of you both and excited to hear all about your season in the US once you get home and join the Wolverines again.