Louis Rees-Zammit: Former Wales rugby player is 'loving' NFL training camp

Louis Rees-Zammit says he is "loving" the "great" experience of trying to break into the NFL after his switch from rugby union.

The 23-year-old has joined the NFL's international player pathway (IPP) with the aim of securing a place on an American football team in 2024.

Rees-Zammit has moved to Florida and started on a 10-week programme.

"My pursuit to be on the NFL is alive and I am excited to see what the next 10 weeks holds," he told Scrum V.

The Wales and Gloucester wing shocked the rugby world in January when he announced he would leave the sport with immediate effect to pursue a career in the NFL. And he has lofty ambitions.

"In the next five years I want to be a Super Bowl champ," he told the BBC.

"These are very much dreams but I'm desperate for these things to happen. And I want to be an inspiration for anyone coming through the IPP, and any international player that wants to get through to the NFL."

'The most challenging thing is how much you have to learn'

Rees-Zammit is hoping to impress NFL scouts in March, with the former British and Irish Lion saying he has "10 weeks of pure, intense training" to see if his "dream can become a reality".

He has been training as a wide receiver but has also been doing some drills as a running back.

"You basically come here and work the game of football on and off the field, in the classroom and training six days a week," he said.

"Training is completely different. You're using completely different muscles that you wouldn't use in rugby. Even the soreness is different.

"I'd probably say the most challenging thing is how much you have to learn. The classroom stuff is full-on. I'm loving learning a completely different sport - the rules, the positions, special teams."

'Hardest decision of my life'

Rees-Zammit said leaving rugby was the "hardest decision" but believes it was the right time for him.

"It was always something I wanted to do, since a young age, and I thought it was the right decision," he said.

"I sat down with my family and went through everything and came to the decision I wanted to do it when I was still young.

"If it works out, I have 10 years to try to play the sport I have loved growing up watching or I can come back to rugby and play the sport I love playing.

"I am excited to see what happens and what the future holds."

'I try not to look at the haters'

Rees-Zammit has been Welsh rugby's poster boy since he burst on to the scene as a teenager and has always been comfortable with his off-the-field standing.

But rugby has not always been a natural home for those with a high profile.

Rees-Zammit, for example, was criticised after he copied footballer Cristiano Ronaldo's trademark celebration after scoring a try for Wales against Portugal in the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

"There is a bubble in rugby," said Rees-Zammit. "You can't do certain things.

"But I am who I am. Like I'm absolutely obsessed with Ronaldo. When I did that celebration, I did it because I love Ronaldo.

"I didn't want to offend anyone. You see loads of footballers doing that, but if you do it in rugby, you get slammed.

"I try not to look at the haters and all the criticism I get. It's just head down and get on with the job."

Rees-Zammit has seen a significant uptick in his popularity on social media since he committed to the NFL - with 100,000 more followers, and 45,000 in the past week.

"I am appreciative of all the support," said Rees-Zammit.

"There's negative comments, but I try not to listen to them. I try to listen to everyone that's been so supportive to me in this career change, and my family mean the world to me."

Rugby return?

Rees-Zammit said he went to the Untied States with the blessing of Wales head coach Warren Gatland, who he called on the day he was due to be named in the Six Nations squad.

"Gats was unbelievable with me," said Rees-Zammit. "I explained the scenario and situation for me, and he was very supportive.

"He asked if it did not work what I would be doing, and I said obviously I would be coming back to rugby."

Rees-Zammit said it was a strange experience watching Wales' 16-14 defeat by England on Saturday.

"I was jealous of the boys and it was in my mind I was pretty gutted I did not play," said Rees-Zammit.

"The boys put a shift in and just managed to lose, which was tough."

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