Monday, May 20, 2024

Irish-born Green Bay Packers ace’s advice for NFL hopeful Louis Rees-Zammit

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The NFL is one of the most well-known sports leagues around the world. Pitting giant athletes up against almost Olympic-quality sprinters, American football is incredibly tough to master.

As reported by the NCAA, less than 2% of collegiate athletes make the NFL. But one of rugby union’s own is looking to defy the odds by making an active American football roster.

Former Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit quit rugby with immediate effect earlier this year to pursue an opportunity with the NFL International Player Pathway program.

Rees-Zammit, who played 32 Tests for Wales and also represented the British & Irish Lions, is training hard in the hopes of potentially making a 53-man NFL roster for the 2024 season.

As part of the intensive 10-week training program at the IMG Academy, the Welshman will try out in front of NFL scouts on March 20 at the University of South Florida.

While that day is rapidly approaching, Ireland-born Green Bay Packers punter Daniel Whelan has shared some advice for Rees-Zammit as the Welshman looks to make his NFL dream a reality.

“I’d say watch as much film as you can. You just learn from everyone that’s better than you so you can get to their level,” Whelan told RugbyPass & SVNS Series.

“Practice, understand the game – it’s a whole different game so different mentality, different mental state.

“If you figure all that out, I feel like you’ll be solid.”

Enniskerry-born punter Daniel Whelan is one of the lucky few who have worked hard behind the scenes before receiving the opportunity to become an active NFL player.

Whelan, 25, is the starting punter for an iconic sporting franchise, the Green Bay Packers. For background, the Packers became the first team to win a Super Bowl almost 60 years ago, and they went back-to-back the following season.

There’s a waiting list to become a season ticket holder at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field. That’s just how seriously this NFL-mad region in Wisconsin takes their American football.

But well before he was picked up by the New Orleans Saints in 2022, and later went to the Green Bay Packers via a stint in the XFL, Whelan was a young fly-half in Dublin.

“I grew up playing rugby, that was my favourite sport. I played fly-half so I kicked all the time when I was 13,” Whelan said.

“Then my mum got a new job in Palm Springs which is two hours from LA. It’s also 130 degrees most of the time so a big climate change for me.

“Then, about two years into high school, the head football coach asked me to try out for kicker because he saw me playing soccer.

“Just transitioned and completely left football in the dust and picked up American football and just started punting and kept continuously working on my craft for at least seven, eight more years until I got to Green Bay.”

Whelan watched on at Los Angeles’ Dignity Health Sports Park as Ireland recorded a stunning upset win over SVNS Series front-runners Argentina at SVNS LAX.

The NFL special teams ace then walked down to the changing rooms alongside former World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year Terry Kennedy before meeting the Ireland squad.

After soaking up the atmosphere at the American venue, and well before flying back to Ireland to watch one of their Six Nations contests, Whelan was put on the spot.

Asked to pick a Green Bay Packers teammate who could successfully make the switch to rugby union, be that SVNS or 15s, Whelan named three genuine superstars.

“I’d say Aaron Jones and Keisean Nixon and probably AJ Dillon.

“They’re quick, agile.

“AJ, he’s a tank so I think they’d pan out pretty well playing rugby.”

Nixon and Dillon are among the most well-known players on the Packers’ roster, and the same could be said for Aaron Jones last season.

But as of six hours ago at the time of writing, Jones has been released by the Green Bay Packers and is currently a free agent.

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