Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni named Jalen Hurts and Jordan Mailata as starters when the team released their 53-man roster. While the second-year quarterback securing the starting job was the talk of the town, Mailata being confirmed as the starting left tackle slipped under the radar.
It caps an astonishing rise for a player who didn't play football growing up and played rugby league until adulthood. Playing as the starting left tackle, which is the quarterback's blindside and thus the most critical position on the O-line, less than half a decade after switching sports, is nothing short of miraculous.
What caused Jordan Mailata to switch sports?
Jordan Mailata was born in Sydney, Australia, and grew up playing the premier sport in that region: rugby league.
Rugby league, not to be confused with rugby union, is a sport that involves thirteen players playing both offense and defense. The game is played at a brisk pace for 80 minutes, and the entire length of the field (110 yards) must be covered in six tackles (or downs) before handing the ball over to the other team. Contrast that with four downs for 10 yards, and the difference between the sports becomes clear.
Rugby league requires higher stamina and better cardiovascular fitness. The NFL requires better athletes who are more robust, faster and can perform at a higher intensity instantly. Jordan Mailata, a tremendous athlete, lacked the conditioning to play rugby league, which was the primary reason he was released.
Jordan Mailata's journey from Rugby League to the NFL
Jordan Mailata played in the Under-18s for local team Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs. In 2017, Jordan Mailata joined the South Sydney Rabbitohs' under-20s squad. He was let go a year later and asked to play a sport that appreciated his size.
Jordan Mailata turned out to be rugby league's loss and NFL's gain. League executives convinced him to try out for the international pathway program. When asked where he would like to play, he chose offensive tackle because he had seen the movie "The Blind Side." He had minimal knowledge about football outside of that.
While training under coach Aden Durde, he was spotted by Philadelphia Eagles coach Jeff Stoutland. During the draft stage, he tried out in front of general managers of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings. He further impressed scouts from other teams.
But nobody was willing to bet on a football newbie other than the Philadelphia Eagles. He was selected in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL draft and has only gone from strength to strength since.
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He will now get a chance to prove his detractors wrong all over again as he starts at left tackle, protecting Jalen Hurts' blindside, much like the character Michael Oher in the movie that made Mailata want to be an offensive lineman.