Christian Wade glanced up at the enormous screen at New Era Field as he charged towards the end zone, nervously checking for defenders closing in.
“It was a dream come true,” the former England and Wasps rugby star announced after his breathtaking 65-yard touchdown. Wade is embarking on an ambitious switch to the NFL, with his first touch of pre-season the perfect introduction. The 28-year-old’s express speed shone a light on the rare potential the Buffalo Bills hope to tap into thanks to the International Player Pathway.
Other teams around th league, too, will now be furiously scribbling notes in case head coach Sean McDermott scratches Wade’s name when they eventually whittle down their squad to 53 players by August 31.
The precarious nature of Wade’s situation was illustrated after he was mobbed by his delighted teammates in celebration. After taking the ball to the house he emerged to receive a telling off; despite his brilliance, the coaches scrupulously discovered expected flaws in the technical aspect of the play, ensuring his feet remained firmly on the ground.
“I did it in an unorthodox way,” Wade concedes. “The way I took the hand-off, I got in trouble for that.
“Initially I handled from the right pocket, the way I was taking the ball, but when I realised I would cut back, I went back to taking the ball like it was a rugby ball.
“There are loads of things I can improve on, I’m still learning. The big positive is the skills that I can transfer over from rugby; they are going to help me in football.”
Wade is something of an outlier with his explosive speed providing him with the rarest of currencies in gridiron: the ability to torch opponents simply by breezing past them on the angle. However, part of the Bills’ dilemma will be whether the are willing to conjure up unorthodox plays and packages for Wade to thrive in, given it is still unclear what position he best suits.
Advised to advertise himself as a running back initially, Wade has been keeping himself busy away from the training field, cramming late at night to model himself on the position’s latest breed, specifically devouring tape on Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Tyreek Hill and Tarik Cohen.
“Those players, who are traditionally smaller but can run plays, run fast with shorter routes, how they move off the ball and move defenders to get open,” Wade explains. “They’re the players I’ve been introduced to on film and I try to emulate how they get open, they’ve been some of the best players over the last few seasons.”
Wade has already shone during this small window of opportunity, but only thanks to his mental fortitude enabling him to remain under consideration. Brief doubts now banished after inflicting a bolt of lightning on the Colts last Friday, Wade has embraced perhaps his toughest challenge: the playback.
“It’s everything,” Wade acknowledges, knowing its value is like consuming plenty of greens – they may not provide the same satisfaction as a juicy steak, yet they remain critical to your development.
“If you don’t know the plays, how and where to line up, what your assignment is, they won’t put you on the field basically.
“The playbook is everything; you have to continuously update and add to your knowledge, reminding yourself of plays.”
The final cut is creeping up, but before that there is a road trip to fellow Brit Efe Obada’s Panthers and the Lions before rounding off pre-season at home to the Vikings on August 30.
Wade, meanwhile, is revelling in the camaraderie of the Bills running back core, appreciating, he says, the “banter” and “teasing” dished out in large doses by Frank Gore, LeSean McCoy, Pat DiMarco, Senorise Perry, TJ Yeldon, Marcus Murphy and rookie Devin Singletary, who mercilessly mock his London accent and pronunciation.
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills)
The battle with his newfound friends and rivals continues, working to remain relevant by September 8 for week one at the Jets. But Wade’s thrilling start has allowed him to briefly admire his journey to date as he now blazes a trail for Brits on the field to compliment the country’s impact off it with the routinely sold out London Games.
“I’m still an infant where I am,” Wade admits. “My football knowledge, playing the actual game as such, I’m taking one day at a time.
“But it’s something I will cherish forever. It’s probably the best memory of my life.”
Follow the NFL pre-season action on Sky Sports and NFL Game Pass.