Samoan league player-turned-NFL star Jordan Mailata has overcome the odds to play in Monday’s Super Bowl, but his rise to the sport’s pinnacle shows kids across the Pacific what’s possible, a Kiwi gridiron pioneer says.
Mark Nua, 170kg and 198cm, and the 166kg, 203cm Mailata share a position, offensive tackle, where they are tasked with defending the quarterback from menacing pass rushers.
Nua tells Stuff’s sports podcast The Podium he struggled with the running of the rugby codes.
“Being a lump of lad, rugby and rugby league was just too much running, to carry 150kg or whatever around the field.”
“On the (offensive) line, you can be…165kg and you’re pushing people around, you don’t have to run further than 20 yards.”
Though it’s not just sheer size that’s needed, with tackles also possessing a nimbleness and agility that belies their gargantuan frames.
After being handed a University of Hawaii scholarship based on a newspaper report of his sporting exploits in Auckland, Nua reached the NFL with the Detroit Lions and San Diego Chargers.
He says the odds of reaching the NFL are even more minuscule for players from Oceania, but Mailata’s remarkable achievements as a left tackle are inspiring.
“If they’re athletic, 6 foot 6 (198cm) and above, there’s that opportunity.”
Nua is passionate about Pasifika talent taking a chance on American football, saying it harks backs to the reasons that previous generations had emigrated from the Pacific Islands to New Zealand and Australia.
“It’s tough, but it’s a great test to see how far you can go. At worst, you’re going to get a life experience that will set you up for the rest of your days.” Nua has watched on admiringly as Mailata had developed into a “mobile hostile individual” on the field, and achieved generational wealth off it after signing a contract worth a guaranteed US$40 million (NZ$63 million) last year.