“See you later, T.”; Nordmen say a sad goodbye to talented, teen linebacker

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After calling Rovaniemi home for more than three years, 16 year-old linebacker Thomas Mott and his family return to the USA; leaving a massive gap in the Nordmen defense and hearts.

Autumn 2019. The Rovaniemi Nordmen were riding high after two, straight undefeated seasons and an Iron Bowl victory in front of the largest crowd to watch an American football game in Rovaniemi in about 20 years. It was the best of times for the Nordmen, who had committed to moving up to the SAJL’s 1st Division for the 2020 season. Big steps, big dreams. Like most teams, the Nordmen held open tryouts and their crash-course in the late autumn of 2019 and got a few new rookies for the 2020 season. A few juniors decided to make the jump to the men’s team, becoming the club’s first home-grown players from the junior ranks. One more would join them before the kick-off of the shortened, “Covid season”. That one was 14 year-old Thomas Mott.

I remember Thomas’ first time coming to juniors’ practice that autumn. I can’t recall how he heard about the Nordmen, but as a young man who had just turned 14 that autumn he was obviously missing his home country, his friends, his family and the sport that he had come to love: football. Thomas was head and shoulders above the rest of our junior players; even if he was only about two years older than most — and younger than the other two that went on to play with the men’s team in 2020. As a teenager in a foreign country, it was pretty easy to see that Thomas needed an outlet; something to help him make friends and also to feel connected to a hobby that he enjoyed back home. The Nordmen provided him both. Thomas soon began practicing with both the juniors and men during the off-season then came the big, bad bug: Covid – shutting down everything for about three months.

After the restrictions were lifted, it was back to work for the Nordmen in preparing for a truncated 2020 season. Thomas came back and was all too eager to see his friends and football family with the Nordmen. Although 2020 was a terrible season for the Nordmen, it wasn’t without its bright spots. One of those bright spots was Thomas becoming the youngest player in the 1st Division in years. As such a young player, we extended great caution and reservation with putting him into too much action, but he did make some very solid plays on defense throughout the season, including recording his first sack in a win over the East City Giants in Helsinki. Despite the hardships faced during the tumultuous 2020 season, Thomas still kept his positive attitude and energy – serving as a source of inspiration for many Nordmen players and fans.

With the ending of one season, came the planning and preparation for the next and the question on many peoples’ lips was whether or not Thomas would be back with the Nordmen for the 2021 season. Early on in the off-season, Thomas informed me that he’d be back for the 2021 season and that it could very well be his last one with the Nordmen. Thomas’ family had moved to Rovaniemi in May of 2019 and his step-father’s assignment was to end after three years, meaning that Thomas would likely miss the start of the 2022 season. As such, we prepared for the 2021 season with the idea that T (as he’d come to be known by the team) would be spending his last summer in Rovaniemi. He wanted to make the best of it, and so did we.

With a major changing of the guard with coaching staff and a roller coaster of a season, the Nordmen’s 2021 season was perhaps even more chaotic and devastating than the 2020 season had been. However, it can’t rain all the time and there can’t be darkness without light and 2021 saw the growth of a shy teen into a strong and confident young man, as Thomas began to find his place among the Nordmen, contributing on valuable plays week-in and week-out. Thomas formed a solid bond with several influential players, learning from the Nordmen’s import players that had arrived from the USA and France. By the end of the season, Thomas had established himself as a viable starter for the Warriors of the Four Winds. Ending the season on a high-note, Thomas played in the 2nd annual Frostbite Bowl and shared some warm, heartfelt words with many of his teammates for what many of us believed to be the last time that we’d see him in a Nordmen uniform.

Queue the 2022 season. We didn’t have to dry our tears for too long thinking about T leaving during the off-season as he informed us rather early on that he would be able to play about half of the regular season with the Nordmen and that his family would be returning to the USA in early-July. Staying close with his teammates during the off-season, both on and off the field, Thomas continued to form close bonds with his fellow Nordmen and coaches. New defensive coordinator, Ryan Oliveira, began to utilize Thomas’ strength and knowledge of the game to help a record-sized rookie class of 13 players get up to speed and coached up during the off-season. Now 16 years-old, Mott had grown into a hulking teen with strength and athleticism, measuring in at about 183cm and 80 kilos (6′ & 175lbs).

Named a team captain for the 2022 season, Thomas Mott (second from left) is seen here prior to the Nordmen’s season-opening victory over the Seinäjoki Gators. Nordmen captains L-R: Alfonso Ikäheimo, Thomas Mott, Elias Id & Kaarle Silander.
Photo by Robbie Patterson

Although, T only got to play three games this season before leaving, he still made his presence felt on the field; from the very first snap, when he tallied a tackle for loss against the Gators in Seinäjoki. Thomas made several crucial plays for the Nordmen from the OLB position this year, totaling 13.5 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss with a total of -15 yards in only three games. Certainly on his way to having a monster season for the Nordmen, T heads back to the States where he’ll have about 6 weeks before he’ll begin the high school football season; already in great shape and with three years of playing against grown men under his belt. Not too bad of a way to spend your mid-teens for a young man with aspirations of playing college football.

To make it a little less formal, I’d like to share that on a personal level I’ve become very fond of Thomas and -as a father to my own teenager- have seen myself as his surrogate “team dad”. Sometimes parents have to be jerks, but I’m happy to say that I’ve had far more “fun dad”-times with T than I have had to be the jerk.

Speaking directly to Thomas, now:

T, you’re a great kid. You treated me with respect and always listened to your coaches and did what you were told. You held yourself accountable and reached out for help when you needed it and we were there when you didn’t reach out, too. You leaving will leave it’s mark for a while and you will not be replaced. You can’t replace someone like you. Ever. You’ll always have a home with us in Rovaniemi and with the Nordmen family. We’ll miss you, kid. Take care of yourself and we’ll see you later.

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