They don’t make ’em much bigger than 6’5, 149kg Leki Fotu, a former rugby player who has been drafted in the fourth round by NFL franchise the Arizona Cardinals. The 21-year-old was the 114th overall pick and played defensive tackle at Utah. His 4-year contract is reportedly worth $3.41 million, including a signing bonus of $773,000.
Before turning his hand full-time to American football, Fotu was a talented rugby player who represented the USA Schools team as a teenager. He ultimately chose the educational and career opportunities afforded to him by the American sport.
Born in Oakland, CA to a Tongan father, Fotu credits rugby for the athleticism that marks him out as a football player. “For me, playing and transitioning into football, it definitely helped me out and helped mold the player that I am today,” he told Howard Balzer of Sports Illustrated. “The way that I move right now with my size; in rugby you have to be able to move and run and be conditioned as a big guy. Being on the defensive side, in rugby there’s no pads or anything involved, so when you come back to football wearing pads you have the courage to do anything. Everything that I did with that sport definitely helped me out with my athleticism and the way that I move inside for the position I play.”
Vita Vea… I mean Leki Fotu is a giant!!! Basically just a big man in the middle. Reminds me a lot of Vita Vea but more athletic. Overall a decent pick.
— Gabe ? (@Gabepvm3) April 25, 2020
Fotu is the latest in a line of huge but mobile rugby athletes to be sought out by the NFL. The Cardinals signed fellow Utah graduate Paul Lasike in 2015, after which he switched to the Chicago Bears, before returning to rugby with the MLR and latterly Harlequins.
6 foot 8, 156kg former league player Jordan Mailata continues to be viewed as a very decent prospect, although injury has set back his development, while 6 foot 9, 124kg former Worcester Warriors lock Christian Scotland-Williamson is still attached to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Maybe the most successful rugby player to play in the NFL, was 6 foot, 136kg defensive tackle Stephen Paea. Born in Auckland, Paea grew up playing rugby before emigrating to the United States. He still holds the NFL combine record on the bench press, with a barely imaginable 49 reps of 102kgs. Paea enjoyed a six year career in the NFL, as is a Crusaders fans by all accounts.
In the less enormous category, Scot Jamie Gillan is the starting punter for the Cleveland Browns, while Christian Wade and Alex Gray are also still on active rosters.
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