Bulletin Staff Report
Twenty-two members of the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets football program took part in a 10-day trip to Sweden and Finland in mid-May to play football against two European teams.
In the two games they played, the Yellow Jackets defeated the Tyresš Royal Crowns — a Swedish club-team — 41-7, and the Finland Junior National Team, 68-0.
The trip was not just about the wins, though. The Howard Payne players were also given the opportunity to share their lives and the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Swedish and Finland football players and fans.
The NCAA permits member institutions to take trips to other countries once every three years, giving student-athletes experiences outside of what would be a normal playing season. Teams are given extended time to practice for the trip in hopes that their experience will benefit the student-athletes, countries, and opposing teams, as well as further the exposure of the sport.
Yellow Jackets head football coach Mike Redwine worked on planning this trip for the HPU football team for over a year. Redwine is no stranger to this area of the world; as a player after college he was able to play for one of the Finnish teams. Later as a coach, he took a group of players from Mid-America Nazarene University to play in Scandinavia.
Redwine, like any other coach, wanted to win, but he also wanted his players to get something different out of the trip. “During the flight, I heard three of our players sharing their faith with complete strangers,” Redwine said. “This takes courage and a real sensitivity to God’s leading.”
The players stayed with host families for two nights in Sweden and were able to interact with the Swedish families and players. Most players thought that it would be very difficult communicating in Sweden and Finland, but many of the people they came in contact with spoke English or at least understood enough English to be able to communicate with them.
The Yellow Jackets were also able the help instruct the Swedish and Finland players in practice. One of the days between their two games, the Howard Payne players had practice with the Swedish Djurgardens football team as a service project. The Yellow Jackets led the Swedish players through individual drills.
“I was so excited watching the way our players took such pride in helping the Swedish players improve their skills,” Redwine said.
There are many aspects of the game football players in America learn from a young age, and the Swedish and Finland players and coaches were eager to learn as much as they could about American football.
“My most memorable moment was when the coach from the Swedish team kept thanking me after I helped his right tackle pancake someone,” said HPU offensive lineman James Freeman.
After the game against the Finland Junior National Team, Redwine was able to speak with the Finland players about HPU. Yellow Jacket Corbin Young was also able to share his testimony.
The Howard Payne players and staff also spent time in team devotions, with a different player sharing each day.
“One of the highlights for me was our team devotionals,” Redwine said. “While it really shouldn’t be this way, sometimes we have to go clear around the world to sit down and be still long enough to really reflect and listen to God. In this case, God spoke through our players and through the natural beauty of Scandinavia.”
Many of the Yellow Jackets came back talking about the beauty of Sweden and Finland. They were particularly impressed with the landscape and the architecture.
“I loved the old buildings and architecture,” said Ryan Robbins. “It is a beautiful place.”
Robbins — the only senior to make the trip — played very well and was given an opportunity to return to play for the Finland professional team — the Kouvola Indians.
Kouvola competes in Division I of the Finland professional league. Robbins spent just one week back in Texas before catching a plane flight back to Finland to start the season with the Indians.
“This is a wonderful opportunity,” Robbins said. “I am really looking forward to the experience.”