KENYAN rugby player Daniel Adongo is about to play his first American football game – ever – when the Indianapolis Colts face the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in a showdown between NFL division leaders.
Adongo has worked out the lingo and nuances of the sport, learned the proper way to put on pads and a helmet, and knows his place in the Colts locker room. There’s still more work to do, but the newly-minted linebacker will get to show the American football world how far he has come in just four months.
“I am excited,” Adongo said yesterday, a day after being promoted from the Colts training squad to their active roster. “My excitement is subdued by the fact I have a task, an obligation and a duty to perform what’s being asked from me for the coaches and my team-mates.”
After a year-long quest to find an overseas player who could help his team, Colts general manager Ryan Grigson gambled on Adongo, a 6ft 5in, 18st 5lbs rugby player who was big, fast and had a penchant for hitting.
Adongo, initially surprised by the invite, worked out at Colts’ headquarters during a rookie mini-camp and, within hours, the team signed him. Many wondered if Adongo could cut it in the NFL but there are few doubters left.
“It was a stretch,” said Colts defensive end Robert Mathis, who leads the NFL in quarterback sacks, when he was asked about his initial thoughts of Adongo succeeding. “I think he’s made everyone believe.”
By some accounts, the 24-year-old Adongo has become a major headache for the Colts’ offensive line in training. And now that he’s up to 19 st 4lbs, he could create problems for opponents, too, if he gets into the game with a chance to rush Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton.
The Colts have been patient, though. Rather than push Adongo into pre-season games, they kept their secret weapon under wraps as he adjusted to the new game. But, with his steady progress in practice and Mario Harvey, a key Colts special teams player, being out for the rest of the season with an injured knee, the Colts decided to give Adongo a chance. Head coach Chuck Pagano expects his rookie to play mainly on special teams such as kick-off and punt returns and he’s confident Adongo will make a difference.
Pagano said: “The guy is a smart guy. We know from a physical standpoint he’s very, very athletic. He can run. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s a tireless worker. He’s been a great pro.
“Even though he hasn’t played, he’s picked up a ton. Our veteran guys, guys like Robert [Mathis] and the rest of the guys in the defensive room, have been tremendous working with him and mentoring him and helping his development.”
One thing the Colts do know is that Adongo can tackle and deliver a hit. He played for Kenya’s under-18 and U19 rugby squads and, in 2006, scouts from the University of South Africa spotted him at a tournament .
A year later, he was attending the university and he subsequently joined the academy of the Sharks club in Durban.
Adongo has competed in second-tier club championships in South Africa and New Zealand since 2010 and made his Super Rugby debut this year with Port Elizabeth’s Southern Kings.
Just a few months later, his new team-mates believe he’s ready for the NFL. “He’s taken the language, the lingo, digested it and regurgitated that to the point now where he asks questions and we have to go back and look it [the language] up,” Mathis said, smiling. “The last few months, I’ve seen it every day in practice, whether it’s a spin move, a bull rush or whatever, and that’s when you knew he was getting better.”
All he has to do now is prove he can play on gameday.
Adongo said: “I’m still just getting comfortable with my movements in pads, and that type of stuff,” he said. “I’m not happy where I’m at right now.”