Rugby Player Adjusts To NFL
Anderson, Ind. — Daniel Adongo has never played a down of American football, has watched only a few games on television and he tends to fidget with his helmet.
Somehow, the Indianapolis Colts found this muscle-bound 6-foot-5, 257-pound athlete on the rugby fields of Africa and decided to give him a shot at making an NFL roster. “Just take your steps and be patient,” Adongo said. “The biggest thing is to be patient with myself and allow myself to have a good learning curve and build myself up.”
Three are plenty of things the 23-year-old Kenyan must figure out now that he’s working out with his new teammates at training camp.
He’s still learning how to get around town and around campus.
He’s still getting used to the sensation of a helmet and pads.
And, of course, he’s still learning what he’s supposed to do.
Teammates are convinced Adongo will be a quick learner, though those who have made the transition from overseas star to American contributor know it won’t be easy.
“I was thinking back to when I came over for the first time to play high school football, and that was a big thing,” said Indy’s most recent first-round draft pick Bjoern Werner, who grew up in Germany. “Now he’s coming over, he’s here for two days and now he’s going to experience an NFL camp right away. That’s going to be tough, but he has teammates so hopefully everybody can help him out.”
There is little doubt Adongo can run and hit. But the Colts are still trying to figure out where he fits best and how long, or successful, the conversion might take. Adongo believes the move to linebacker is the most logical place to start given the combination of size, speed and aggression required to excel in rugby. If that doesn’t work out, maybe he’ll get a chance at defensive end or tight end or fullback.
“We watched him throw a football for the first time and in about a nanosecond we said, ‘You know he’s not a quarterback,’ ” general manager Ryan Grigson said. “But once you start seeing him move around with those long limbs and you see the type of competitor and really the traits he has as a human being and as an athlete, you have something to work with. You basically have a lump of clay for these coaches to work with.”
Adongo began his career playing for the Kenya Harlequins junior team. Eventually, he wound up on his native country’s U-18 and U-19 rugby squads. In 2006, scouts from the University of South Africa spotted him during a Safari Sevens tournament. A year later, he was attending the largest university on the African continent.
Then it was off to the Sharks Academy, and last year he competed in the Varsity Cup for the University of Pretoria. This year, he was playing for the Southern Kings of Super 15 Rugby when the Colts started sending him emails and invited him to make the 17-hour flight for a workout.
Adongo said he couldn’t refuse.
“It’s just a gut feeling that I had. I followed my gut,” he said.
How did the Colts find this guy?
“We, kind of under wraps, last fall started talking about it,” Grigson said. “A pro scout of ours, Jon Shaw, was kind of delegated the duty of like, ‘Hey, this is your baby. Let’s see what you can do with it, see if you can give me a cluster of guys that are worthwhile, the right age group, have the right traits, the right makeup to actually even be able to even make the transition since it is a major one.’ But you know, when you look at the (camp) rosters going from 80 to 90, we’d much rather, as a staff, give the coaches something to work with than just a true camp body who we know is going to be cut in a week or two and is not going to help us get where we want to go.”
If it works out, overseas scouting could become a league-wide rage. If not, the Colts haven’t lost a thing.
Either way, Adongo figures it’s a risk worth taking.
“Defensively, where I’m going to be playing as an outside linebacker a lot of things correlate, a lot of tackling, a lot of aggression, a lot of physicality,” he said. “Coming into this league as a pass-rusher, I think that’s my job. My main focus is making sure I’m good at what I do and good at what I do in the system.”