For centuries, some of the strongest men on the planet have hailed from Scandinavia.
Once the domain of the Vikings, the northern European countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland have a history of producing gigantic athletes with superhuman strength. Since 1996, 10 different men have won the title of World's Strongest Man. Astoundingly, half of them have hailed from a Scandinavian country, despite the fact the region contains less than .4 percent of the world's total population.
Had Sebastian Johansson not discovered American football, he very well could've been Scandinavia's next strongman champion. Instead, he's hoping to earn a job in the NFL.
Born in a small town outside Karlstad, Sweden, Johansson grew up in a weightlifting culture. "I grew up in a very blue-collar area where lifting weights and strongman competitions were a big part of the lifestyle," Johansson said. He first began playing American football at around 12 years old, excelling as a member of the Carlstad Crusaders club team. Johansson quickly fell in love with the game and set a goal of playing college football in the United States. When presented with the opportunity to participate in an exchange program that would send him to Raceland, Kentucky for his junior year of high school, he happily accepted.
At Raceland, Johansson soon earned a starting spot on the school's varsity team and helped the Rams to a 12-1 record. College coaches were intrigued by his large frame and mighty strength, and Marshall University offered him a full scholarship. After returning to Sweden to finish his final year of high school, Johansson enrolled at Marshall. Although he had been a standout in Sweden and played well during his one season of Kentucky high school football, he quickly discovered that Division I college football was a massive upgrade in competition. "It took time to adjust. I redshirted. It's just a different caliber of athlete. You're going against kids who've been playing the game since they were 5 or 6, compared to in Sweden where they picked it up at maybe 15 or 16. It's a different game," Johansson said. "I had the strength to play right away, but I had to adjust to the speed."
Progress came slowly, and there was a time when Marshall head coach Doc Holliday wasn't sure if Johansson would emerge as a contributor. "[His redshirt freshman season], I didn't think he could play anything," Holliday once told The Daily Independent. However, when Alex Mirabal was named the team's offensive line coach in February of 2013, he saw major potential in the player nicknamed "Big Swede." Johansson's technique continued to improve during spring ball, and he entered his redshirt sophomore season as the team's starting left guard. He started all 14 games, and his technique and football IQ continued to grow.
"It's a day-to-day thing, you never stop learning. You have to keep your eyes and ears open," Johansson said. In 2014, he was a key member of a Thundering Herd offense that posted a school record 559 yards per game.
By 2015, Johansson was primed for a breakout campaign. His fundamentals had become rock solid, he'd adjusted to the speed of the game, and his strength had gone from impressive to flat-out freakish. His weigh room numbers included a 595-pound Squat and a 410-pound Bench Press. Johansson went on to have a stellar season, earning a first-team All-Conference USA selection and helping Marshall to their third straight year of 10 or more wins. His big senior season helped him capture the attention of pro scouts, and Johansson is now on track to become only the sixth Swedish-born NFL player since 1932 (the other five were kickers).
In the months leading up to his all-important Pro Day, Johansson trained at TEST Football Academy in Martinsville, New Jersey. There, he saw massive improvements in his lateral movement and explosiveness and learned to pay greater attention to diet and proper recovery. The hard work paid off, and Johansson turned heads at Marshall's mid-March Pro Day. Measuring 6-foot-3 and 293 pounds, he recorded a 5.06 40-Yard Dash, a 32.5-inch Vertical Jump, a 9'5" Broad Jump, a 7.27 3-Cone Drill, a 5.21 20-Yard Shuttle and 26 reps on the 225 Bench Test. According to 3SigmaAthlete.com, Johansson's SPARQ score ranks fourth-highest among this year's class of offensive lineman.
Johansson's late development will likely prevent him from being an early-round pick, but he has all the tools to develop into a long-term starter. In addition to his outstanding physical tools, he also possesses the aggressive edge linemen need to be successful at the highest level. "I wouldn't say I have a mean streak in a negative way, but I definitely like to mess around a little bit on the field, use some language I probably shouldn't say right now. I like to push defenders around," Johansson said. With the build of a strongman and a beard straight out of Norse mythology, "Big Swede" has a chance to establish himself as an intimidating force in the NFL.
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