How badly does Jordan Mailata want to make the transition from Australian rugby to the National Football League?
Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland ran Mailata's Pro Day at the IMG Academy last month in Bradenton, Florida, where Mailata trained since January to get ready for the NFL Draft.
It was a grueling workout, both mentally and physically, Mailata says. But at the end, Stoutland gave Mailata a thumbs up.
"I guess he was just challenging me based on coachability, that's one thing that he said," Mailata said. "He said, 'It is one thing if you're able to be an athlete, but if you can't be coachable there is no point of drafting you or signing you because if you can't be coached then there is no point in playing a team sport.'
"So that's one thing that he challenged me was to see if I was coachable and see if I could understand what he was asking of me in that moment, either if it was on the board or on the field with the task that he was showing me with the drills."
Following the Pro Day workout, the Eagles brought Mailata to Philadelphia for a pre-draft visit. Mailata was impressive enough that the Eagles moved up 17 picks in the seventh round and sent an additional seventh-round pick in 2019 in a trade with the Patriots to select the 6-8, 347-pound behemoth with 35.5-inch arms.
The 21-year-old's* (Editor's note: The original version stated Mailata was 20 years old. He turned 21 last month.)* rugby career ended in August when his team, the South Sydney Rabbitohs of the National Rugby League, didn't make the finals. Mailata's agent, Chris Orr, decided to make a YouTube highlight tape to send to other rugby clubs but Mailata was only offered part-time contracts. Teams wanted him to lose 30 to 40 pounds. The issue was twofold. He said he has just 10 percent body fat. The part-time contract wouldn't offer enough money so he'd have to get another job then still find time to shed the weight.
Last season, the NFL instituted the International Pathway Program which allowed four clubs - it was the NFC South in 2017 - to have an extra spot on the practice squad for a developmental prospect from overseas. Mailata worked out for the league in Los Angeles last November and he was selected as one of six players to train at the IMG Academy for a chance to earn one of the spots in the International Pathway Program. Midway through training, Mailata learned he was eligible for the draft and decided to take a chance.
The International Pathway Program determined that Mailata would become an offensive tackle. Mailata admitted that his knowledge of the American game was "peanuts" when he started training. Each day, he spent over four hours working out then another three hours studying film. Zone schemes, defensive fronts, all of the basics required to play the tackle position. He is "100 percent" committed to seeing this through.
"I had to weigh the pros and cons before I made this decision come. I knew that if I made the decision, it has to be all in, and that is what I have been giving it," Mailata said. "The last three or four months have not been a walk in the park. So I knew I was going to give this my all because walking away from something I knew quite well to go after something that was foreign was a big risk to take."
Mailata was in Arlington, Texas and got to step on stage in AT&T Stadium after he was selected by the Eagles. He has some family in the United States but will be by himself in Philadelphia.
At least Mailata is not the only Australian on the Eagles' roster. He is joined by punter Cameron Johnston. Mailata is not even the only rugby convert as tight end Adam Zaruba played in Canada before earning an invite to Training Camp last summer. Zaruba was re-signed to a futures contract after the 2017 season.
"The last three or four months have not been easy - mentally challenging as well as physically," Mailata said. "Trying to understand the basics and fundamentals of football has been a great task. So little knowledge before I came in, but I can happily say now that I can understand concepts and am beginning to have a step in the right direction."
Thankfully, Mailata has one of the best offensive line coaches in the game in Stoutland and veterans like Jason Peters and Lane Johnson to show him the ropes.