SportsHead: Rugby players in the NFL


Emily Uzzle|Marlin Chronicle

On March 29, the five time Super Bowl Champions Kansas City Chiefs announced the signing of rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit. The 23-year-old most recently played for Gloucester, a team in the English Premiership. He made his rugby international debut for Wales in 2020 and in 2021 he went to South Africa for the British and Irish Lions tour. He is not the first ex-rugby player to come to the NFL. In 2018, Australian native and Philadelphia Eagles left tackle Jordan Mailata also made the switch over. 

For Rees-Zammit, going to the NFL is something he has always dreamed of. He told the Associated Press that he grew up loving the sport, mostly because of his father. Earlier in March, he participated in the International Player Pathway program, which began in 2017 as a way for international athletes to get a chance in the NFL. He finished the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds in front of NFL scouts, which would have ranked fifth in the NFL Combine. The Combine is where amateur players, mostly college players who have declared for the NFL draft, can be seen by NFL scouts. 

As for Mailata, his story is very different. Raised in Australia but not an Australian citizen, his family is of strict Samoan family culture. Mailata was a professional rugby player for a few teams in Australia but was not making nearly enough money to live on. The first time he asked his parents to play football overseas, he was quickly denied. In Samoan culture people traditionally do not leave the house until they are married, so, again, when Mailata asked his parents to train at IMG academy in Florida he was told no. Mailata was finally able to convince his parents to allow him to play football, and he has quickly become one of the best left tackles in the NFL. According to Program Football Focus, Mailata was in the top 10 best left tackles during the 2023 season. He has also become a crowd favorite in Philadelphia. 

There have been at least five other ex-rugby players with careers in the NFL. While the news of Rees-Zammit leaving rugby to pursue a career in professional football may have come as a surprise to British rugby fans, I think they should give him a chance. If Rees-Zammit is anything like Mailata, then he is on his way to having an extremely successful NFL career. 

By: Colette Kearney