From LHU to the NFL

By John Vitale in News 

September 22, 2011

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Photo courtesy of Facebook

“Lock Haven University football.” Most of the connotations people have drawn from those four words in recent years have not been very positive.

Even LHU students and faculty often chuckle when conversing about the school’s football program.

But that all changed—at least for a few days this summer—when 2010 LHU graduate and former Bald Eagle football standout Karri Kuuttila signed a pro contract with the St. Louis Rams.

Yes, you read that last sentence accurately

Despite the Bald Eagles football team not winning a game since 2007, one of its players made it all the way the pinnacle of professional football—the National Football League (NFL).

And although his stay in the NFL did not last as long as Kuuttila had envisioned, the 6 foot-6 inch, 315-pound offensive lineman referred to his time with the Rams as “One hell of an experience.”

“Most people don’t realize that being a professional football player is a nine-to-five, times two, with a lot more added to it. At that level it’s not just a game,” said Kuuttila as an explanation to why he is no longer with the Rams.

Kuuttila said players would wake up around 6:00 a.m., eat breakfast by 6:30 a.m., then from 7:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. players would alternate between practice and meetings with only a few one-hour breaks in between.

“In college, football was just a game. It was fun,” Kuuttila said. “But in the NFL, football is your life.”

One of the less stressful moments during Kuuttila’s tenure with the Rams came during a team meeting in which rookies were required to perform for the rest of the team as a lighthearted hazing initiation.

“I asked if they wanted to hear some Notorious B.I.G. or a Finnish song,” Kuuttila said.

The majority of his teammates requested the Finnish folk song and Kuuttila, who is originally from Finland, happily obliged.

“A lot of people got booed off the stage and there was lots of laughter, but I actually got applauded,” said Kuuttila. I guess they were excited about the different language.”

Now that his time with the Rams has ended, Kuuttila said that he is unsure if he wants to pursue a career in professional football, but added, “I’m only 23 years old. If I ever want to go back out there I can definitely do that.”

And for a young man who can bench press nearly 500 pounds and who put up 225 pounds 35 times at the NFL scouting combine, there is no reason to believe that he can’t.

Current LHU Assistant Head Coach Chris Sprague is the man responsible for luring Kuuttila to Lock Haven.

“Karri had never played football before, he had played rugby, and he was raw but he was a big kid,” Sprague Said. “At the time he was 6”4’ or 6”5’ and about 280 [pounds], and he really reminded me of ‘Ivan Drago’ from the ‘Rocky’ movie. You don’t have too many kids like that in the PSAC.”

“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” said Kuuttila regarding his playing days with the Bald Eagles. “We didn’t win a lot, but those few wins I got under my belt really meant a lot to me.”

Kuuttila graduated from Lock Haven in May with a B.S. in psychology.

And while his future career path has yet to be determined, for now he is considering returning to his roots and visiting Africa—a place that he spent time when he was younger.

As a kid I got the chance to travel a lot because of my father’s job. I’ve lived in six or seven different countries and got to see a lot of cool stuff,” Kuuttila said. “I think I’d like to do that again.

Many members of the LHU community—both past and present—are proud of Kuuttila for all he has accomplished.

“I think it’s great,” said Bill Albright, a 1965 LHU graduate, and freelance sports writer who has covered LHU sports for nearly five decades, including each of Kuuttila’s years with the Bald Eagles. “Most people don’t even know where Lock Haven is on the map, so for one of our own to get a chance to compete at that level is just fabulous.”

Former teammate and current LHU offensive lineman Kurt Ledebur fondly remembers his playing days with Kuuttila.

“As a teammate [Karri] had great ability, great size and strength and I used to love blocking with him,” Ledebur said. “He was always trying to rip people’s heads off and that really pumps me up.” He added, “ It was great to see him get the opportunity and it makes me want to go out there and try even harder to show everyone that Lock Haven really does have good football here. I’m really happy for him and I wish him nothing, but the best.”

Albright stressed the importance of not giving up on the dream if that’s the path Kuuttila wants to pursue.

“John Kuhn is a guy that played in the PSAC and didn’t get drafted out of Shippensburg. Now he’s a starting fullback for the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and he also won a ring as a practice squad player with the Steelers in 2006,” said Albright. “Just because it doesn’t work out the first time doesn’t mean it won’t work out in the end.”

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