Updated: Oct 19, 2021

This piece was written by Jamal Clay, a frequent contributor of Globally Ballin and the founder of "The Athletes Forum"

To be honest, I don’t know what my thoughts were once Covid-19 started to get serious. I was in such a unique situation, being that I was already in Finland late March the situation in Europe was much worse than in the United States at the time. The moment that truly made me realize the severity of the situation was when a mandatory return order was sent out by the United States for all American citizens abroad to return home or be ready to stay put. Questions came into my head like a wildfire. Do I abandon the idea of a possible season? What about my family, do I go back to them so that we are all together during uncertain times? In this moment, I truly felt lost. However, something inside my head just kept giving me the idea to not lose hope, to stay. I went over to Coach Utriainen’s house when the notice of return was sent out, and this is when we both decided it was best for me to stay in Finland with high hopes that we will still be able to play a season.

After our preseason game in Italy was cancelled, I had some doubts about the season. Coach Pekka was really positive throughout the whole spring and really helped me keep positive in believing that we would have a season. Slowly but surely, we were able to start practicing again and things began to go back to normal. Things have made an incredible turn around here in Finland when you compare our situation to many other countries around the world. We are about to begin playing Football, I think we are the only league in the world right now that is starting, and to me that is pretty special.

I am ecstatic about playing this week. It has been a long offseason, and the idea of being able to play football, make plays, and celebrate with my teammates gives me butterflies like never before. I feel confident in my self and my abilities this year more than ever because of the extra time to prepare and get my body ready for the season. I feel faster, stronger, more confident than ever before and this means trouble for the rest of the league. I believe that I have gotten better, but I also believe that our team has gotten stronger as well. This year’s team has much more solid depth at each position which allows us to be more flexible and do more fun things on offense and defense. I think the biggest difference between this year and last is our mental toughness. We have gone through a lot this spring, so this season is all about going out there and having a blast doing what we love to do.

I can’t really say what my emotions are going to be once I step on that field. I hope it is going to be a buildup. Pregame warmups is going to be insane. I going to have to hold onto all that energy and let it loose on the first play. This is going to be a special season; the energy is going to be greater than you’ve ever seen. I am going to do my best to leave absolutely everything on the field this year to bring a championship to Kuopio because my teammates and the supporters of the team deserve it.

To say this has been an odd offseason is an understatement. We are finally able to get back to “normal” life here in Finland. We finally are getting our season this week, so why not make the most of it? We get an opportunity to do something special this year, not only for us, but for everyone watching. I am playing for all my former coaches who believed in me, gave me an opportunity when nobody else would. To my city, Oak Ridge, which helped mold who I am today. Most importantly, this year is dedicated to my mom and dad, who have put our family, our business on their shoulders and inspired me to work harder than ever before. For my little brother, Mark, who has had his senior season in college football put on hold yet still finds a way to bring light to dim situations and inspires me to always have a positive mindset. To my oldest sister, Koko, who is about to begin her journey into dental school who challenges and inspires me to continue to strive to be the best version of myself. To my best friends and their families, Stone and Will, who support me, challenge me, and inspire me to continue to grow to become a better man on and off the field.

I play and will give my everything on the field for those who have supported me throughout my entire football journey because during these times, that is the least I can do.

“I don’t care about three years ago… I don’t care about two years ago. I don’t care about last year. The only thing I care about this week.” - Tom Brady

We’re Back!

- Tommy Kaczocha #22

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