Indianapolis Colts linebacker Daniel Adongo is an accomplished football player set to make his NFL debut against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Considering Adongo knew little about America’s version of football just five months ago, his first appearance in a pro game will be remarkable.
Adongo, 24, played rugby professionally in South Africa before the Indianapolis Colts signed him in July. He had never visited the United States before his NFL opportunity, and spent the past 13 weeks on Indianapolis’ practice squad. Adongo was promoted to the active roster on Tuesday and is expected to contribute on Sunday.
"I think back to his very first workout, when we first brought him in after a 17-hour flight to Atlanta and a connection up here ... to try out, [and] from what we saw to right now, it's night and day," Colts coach Chuck Pagano told ESPN.com. "The guy is a smart guy, we know from a physical standpoint he's very, very athletic. He can run, he's big, he's strong and he's a tireless worker."
The same can be said for Ryan Grigson, Indianapolis’ general manager.
Adongo played rugby at the highest level in South Africa, and after watching him play on film, Grigson was impressed with the athlete’s speed and tackling ability, according to ESPN. The club e-mailed Adongo and asked if he wanted to workout. After that performance, Adongo was eventually signed and added to the Colts' training camp roster.
"The guy couldn't even put [football] pants on six months ago, knew nothing about football, and look at where he is now," Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding told ESPN.com. "He's giving the O-line fits. He's a very aggressive player, and I can't wait to see him line up, where they put him."
Do not expect Adongo to chase down Bengals running back Giovani Bernard or read quarterback Andy Dalton.
Pagano said Adongo will play only on special teams, which actually caters to his skill set – run around and hit people.
"With my skill set from rugby, I think that's more transferable right now on special teams," Adongo told IndyStar.com.
Adongo is not the first rugby player to land in the NFL.
The Jets previously gambled on Hayden Smith, a former rugby player signed by the team in 2012. Smith played tight end for New York, spending most of last season on the practice squad. However, he appeared in five games and recorded a reception for 16 yards. Smith was released prior to this season.
Pagano told IndyStar.com, “Don't be shocked to see him knock some people around if he gets an opportunity." Adongo does not believe he will have a difficult transition on Sunday.
"If I can play with the same speed and prowess and agility I had before, then I think that translates," Adongo told IndyStar.com when asked about gaining around 32 pounds to currently weigh 270. "It's physics: Momentum and speed and you dominate."
It is just football.
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