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Kennewick grad Layton Brown playing football for Finnish team

The last time Layton Brown had the joy of crossing the goal line to score a touchdown was many, many years ago.

And many, many miles from where he is now.

The 2007 Kennewick High School graduate last punched one in while participating in Grid Kids in the Tri-Cities.

Now, the Whitworth University product is scoring touchdowns and one of the leading tacklers in Finland.

That's right. Finland.

Brown is playing professionally this summer for the Porvoo Butchers (9-1), a team in the American Football Association of Finland (SAJL).

"I've played running back and tight end," Brown said. "It has been fun going both ways. The way our offense is ... it is a lot like Oregon's. No huddle, a lot of shotgun to really mess up the defense."

Brown has been messing up nearly everyone since crossing the pond to play this summer.

He is among the league leaders in tackles with 56 total and 30 solo in nine games. He also had an interception to seal a 48-45 victory two weeks ago against the Lappeenranta Border Knights. The win gave Porvoo home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Offensively, Brown has four receptions for 176 yards and four touchdowns.

The Butchers will face the Helsinki Wolverines at 8:30 a.m. PDT on Sunday in the semifinals of the Maple League playoffs at Fratton Park in Porvoo. The Butchers are after their seventh consecutive Maple Bowl title.

"Layton has played exceptionally well this season," Porvoo coach Jim Nendel said. "He leads by example, and yet, has developed incredible relationships with the Finnish players and brings a spirit of hard work and fun to practices.

"We would not be where we are without Layton this year."

And Brown would not be where he is without Nendel.

Nendel coached at Whitworth for 10 years and worked for the semi-pro Spokane Wolfpack for a few years before being hired in Finland. Nendel makes his offseason home in Spokane, so he had seen Brown play and offered him a contract earlier this year.

"He showed up to one of our games and ... told me there was a spot open in Finland," Brown said. "I thought there was a catch. This guy comes up to me and just says, 'You want to play football in Finland?' "

Brown had an attorney look over the contract and talked to his parents, Rick and Deanna Brown. The pair urged their son to accept.

"We just told Layton it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing and you need to do it," Rick said. "The door was open, and you need to go through it and enjoy every bit of it."

Layton Brown has enjoyed the football side as well as the crossing of cultures.

He has traveled to Estonia and Cyprus during bye weeks and is attempting to adjust to the extreme daylight differences. The country is so far north, it is light nearly 24 hours a day. There are even three- to four-hour sunsets.

"Not a lot of people can say they've been where I have," Brown said. "In Finland, the people are so great. It is a beautiful country. Very clean, low crime rate. I've just enjoyed my time here and trying to learn the language and getting to know some of my teammates."

One thing that has helped Brown is the rule that each team in the league can have three non-European Union members. So, joining Brown on the Butchers are quarterback Mackenzie McGrady from Michigan and running back Chris Watkins from Mississippi.

All three players live together and have access to a vehicle and phone, as well as paid airfare to and from Finland. They also have talked about coming back to play for Porvoo next season, especially with all the success the team has had since they arrived.

"We have averaged 540 yards a game the last eight games since Layton and Chris Watkins arrived," Nendel said. "We are a young team this year, and our inexperience has shown at times, but we are playing well."

Which is something family and friends have noticed at home.

"All these parents and family members get on Facebook," Rick Brown said, "and there is someone at the game that lets us know what is going on. You have people all over the U.S. at 5 a.m. trying to follow what is going on with a game in Finland."

You can bet the Brown clan will again be huddled around a computer seeing what Layton will pull off next.

w Craig Craker: 582-1509; ccraker@tricityherald.com; www.twitter.com/craig_craker

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