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Max Ehlert is vying for time at middle linebacker in 2013.

Max Ehlert is vying for time at middle linebacker in 2013.

Aug 13, 2013

ELY (UNLVRebels.com) - Returning senior linebacker Max Ehlert started the charge when he joined the Rebels during camp a year ago out of junior college. This season, he was joined by fellow transfer C.J. Backlund, who is in line to be the squad's No. 2 center, and freshman running back Henri Jussila, who came straight from Finland despite spending one season playing American football.

Ehlert got into American football after playing hockey for years but instantly took to the gridirion game when the opportunity arose.

"I was playing hockey since I was 9 years old but one of the dads actually started a pee-wee team and they recruited hockey players in the summer time. I didn't have anything to do so I played in the summer," Ehlert said.

Backlund, like Ehlert, started out a hockey player and turned to football, something that has become more common in Finland.

"I played Hockey for almost 12 years and it's pretty normal in Finland for hockey players to transition into football," Backlund said.

Jussila started playing football in the sixth grade after initially denying his classmate's suggestion to play, but changed his mind after watching the NFL at its best via television.

"My friends played in elementary school and they asked me to join and at first I said 'No, not yet,' because I had soccer and track," Jussila said. "Then I saw my first Super Bowl and I said `Yeah, that's cool, that's what I want to do.' So in sixth grade I started playing."

Eventually making their way to the states to play after having their own successful stints on the national championship club team -- the Helsinki Roosters -- Ehlert and Backlund both started their American football careers at Chabot College in Hayward, Calif.

 

 

"An opportunity presented itself to me to go to a junior college in California and I took a risk and moved over to Oakland and it worked out. Now, I have everything I wanted." Ehlert said.

Jussila got his first taste of American football when he played for Layton Christian Academy in Utah in 2010, making the Utah 1-A All-State team, before going back to Finland to play for the Roosters team in 2011 and 2012.

Ehlert played in 13 games for the Rebels in 2012, racking up 29 total tackles and a forced fumble in his inaugural season of Division I football. With a year of top-level play already under his belt, Ehlert hopes to have a larger impact on the team this season.

"I'm ready to step up my role. I'm trying to do whatever I can and whatever they want me to do to get this team to a bowl game," he said.

UNLV head coach Bobby Hauck echoed Ehlert's hopes, as he sees his senior being a major contributor on defense this season after he recovers from a pulled hamstring that's limited him in the first week of practice.

Overall, Hauck likes what he has seen so far from his Finnish players and is not adverse to giving more international recruits a shot.

"I don't consider myself an authority on what kind of talent they have in Finland. I've only watched a few guys, but I certainly like the guys we have and if there was another guy that showed ability and wanted to be here, we would certainly look at him," Hauck said.

AD VISITS: UNLV went through one practice Tuesday afternoon at Broadbent Park before heading to the convention center for a Thanksgiving-style dinner of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gray with fruit pie for dessert.

Taking in her first Ely practice Tuesday was UNLV Interim Athletics Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy. "The weather here is spectacular this time of year and I can see why the team gets so much good work done," she said. "We appreciate the reception given to us by the city of Ely, which Bobby says takes great care of the Rebels every August."

UNLV will be back on the field Wednesday for two practices.

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