Great athletes have one very important characteristic in common. No matter which sport they attempt to play, they just seem to easily excel in all aspects of the sport. Think of Michael Jordan retiring from basketball to play professional baseball. Bo Jackson was a world class athlete who won college football’s Heisman Trophy and played in both an NFL Pro Bowl Game and MLB All-Star Game. Word has it he was also an excellent basketball player.
It looks like Jarryd Hayne might be the next great athlete to try to make a name for himself in two major league sports. The real interesting part of this story is he will be trying to transition from a rugby superstar playing in Australian to an NFL running back playing in San Francisco. To make the story a tad bit more interesting, he had never played a down of American football prior to signing a contract with the San Francisco 49ers in March of 2015.
Hayne was born to a Fijian father and Australian mother on February 15, 1988. Given the popularity of rugby in both those countries, it would be fair to say rugby is in his blood. After showing great promise as a junior rugby player, Hayne made his way to the National Rugby League (NRL) in 2006 at the age of 18.
In a rugby career that spanned nine years, Hayne earned significant honors at the club, state and international levels. At the club level, he played all nine years with “the only team for him” the Parramatta Eels. During that time, he was twice awarded the NRL’s Dally M Medal winner (2009 and 2014) for “player of the year.” In 176 career NRL games, he scored 103 tries, 2 goal and 3 F/G for a total of 419 points. His best season was his last when he scored 20 tries in just 21 games.
After being named the Rugby League International Federation’s International Player of the Year in 2009, it was clear he could lay claim to being one of the best rugby players in the world. Following his amazing 2014 season, he began the quest to conquer new worlds by signing a 3-year contract with the 49ers for a total of US$1,575,000.
Credit should be given to 49ers officials for seeing potential in a rugby player who has great hands, power and speed. When Hayne reported to camp in 2015, the general sentiment was it would be a miracle for him to make the team’s 53-man squad. After two solid games during the preseason, the announcement came he had indeed made the team’s roster.
In limited play, Hayne gained 155 all-purpose yards rushing, receiving and returning punts. What was most impressive was his determination related to learning to run the ball and conquer a game he had never played at any level prior to the start of his adventure.
With the NFL draft just hours away, word out of San Francisco is that new Head Coach Chip Kelly in anxious to see if Hayne can make a big step forward in his second year. Even while he was coaching in Philadelphia, he was aware of Hayne’s fascinating story, telling reporters “He (Jarryd Hayne) certainly has a skill set that is intriguing.”
Aside from again making the squad, Hayne hopes to continue learning to run the ball like an NFL running back as opposed to a rugby player. At 28 years old, he still has enough time to conquer the NFL and do his country proud. It won’t be easy, but the fact he is a great athlete bodes well for his chances of establishing himself as a viable running back in the NFL.