Jordan Mailata's new journey is underway.
Jordan Mailata's new journey is underway.

Ex-South star's brutal start in NFL

AS NFL teams gather to start their respective training camps, Jordan Mailata has more work to do than most.

The 21-year-old Aussie was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles this year despite never having played a single down of American football. For Philly, that was a risk worth taking because his sheer size made him irresistible.

The former South Sydney Rabbitohs star is 2m tall and weighs 160kg. Too cumbersome to make it in the NRL, he made the switch to a more explosive football code where his huge frame would be just as handy without making him a liability fitness-wise.

He's got the physical attributes, but the man who became the first ever rugby league forward to get picked up in an NFL draft (seventh round, pick No. 233 overall) has a lot to learn about the intricacies of the game. That much was evident at Eagles camp ahead of the 2018-19 season.

Asked when he was drafted how much he knew of the sport he was trying to make a fist of, Mailata said "as little as peanuts". Well, after his introduction to pre-season, he said he now knows "a handful" of peanuts.

"It's piecing it all together. It's piecing all the peanuts together," he said.

He learned a pretty quick lesson before the drills even started, as teammate Brandon Brooks revealed.

"The first day we were in full pads, his knee pad was on sideways," Brooks said. "You never think, 'This is his first day ever putting on pads.' He had never even put pads on. So everything is new for him. He's drinking from a fire hose. He's doing well. He's getting better and better each day."

Jordan Mailata was stunned to receive the call up to the Eagles.
Jordan Mailata was stunned to receive the call up to the Eagles.

He may have made his teammates laugh with that early snag but he had them applauding when they realised his body wasn't the only big thing about him - he's got some enormous pipes too.

As Philadelphia's rookies were called up to sing in front of their peers, some - like Dallas Goedert who sung Sweet Child of Mine by Guns N' Roses - crashed and burned while Mailata stole the show with his rendition of Sam Smith's I'm not the only one.

"He's got some vocals," Goedert said. "He sounded real good."

Mailata is being groomed as an offensive tackle and told reporters although he has "150 things" to learn, he's improving everyday. But camp hasn't been without its troubles as the big unit's confidence took a couple of hits.

Philly.com's Les Bowen said Mailata was "repeatedly out-leveraged in one-on-one blocking drills" earlier in the week and NFL reporter Geoff Mosher tweeted that Mailata's footwork is "still a major work in progress" after seeing him get beaten easily by Josh Hart in a one-on-one drill.

"It's frustrating when you know what to do, and in the heat of the moment, you just forget what to do," Mailata said. "Assessing the (defensive) end, there's so much to assess. Sometimes I forget to rely on my training."

While the man mountain has been getting frustrated, he knows he has to play the long game and has already identified where he needs to get better, especially after going up against defensive end Derick Barnett.

Mailata gave up his NRL dream to pursue a career in the NFL.
Mailata gave up his NRL dream to pursue a career in the NFL.

"They keep telling me Rome wasn't built in a day, but I'm a perfectionist," Mailata said. "When (offensive line) coach (Jeff Stoutland) tells me something over and over again and I don't get it right, I take it personal.

"I was swimming in the deep end but I learn faster (that way). Critics will have their own fair share of what they say and I will learn from it.

"I need to use my hands a bit more, the punching, I am not used to that. I have to get my hands down and get my timing right."

Thankfully, Mailata has got plenty of support. Stoutland and his fellow Eagles - in particular defensive ends Steven Means and Josh Sweat - have been providing a helping hand as he navigates his way through the tough early stages of his NFL journey.

"I knew it was going to be challenging but at the same time, I have the support of the guys here and Coach Stout, they've been a massive help," Mailata said.

"At the end of the play they come up to me and tell me what's wrong and what to focus on the next rep.

"It does get frustrating at times, but I have good players around me and the team - they just keep encouraging me to stay positive and focus on the little things. One thing at a time.

"It's a massive help having those blokes showing me the way and showing me the ropes."

Jordan Mailata's success has sparked renewed interest from the NFL.
Jordan Mailata's success has sparked renewed interest from the NFL.

In March Mailata strutted his stuff in front of all 32 teams at a pro day where he dished up impressive numbers. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.12 seconds and completed the short shuttle in 4.67 seconds - times which would have put him in the top-10 for both categories had they come at the NFL Combine earlier in the year.

He spent time training at the IMG Academy in Florida as he tried to get up to speed with his new job and visited eight franchises before he was scooped up by the reigning Super Bowl champions.



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