New England Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski is 6-foot-6, 270 pounds.
Canadian rugby star Adam Zaruba is 6-foot-5, 265 pounds. If Zaruba can even come close to being the matchup problem that Gronkowski is – too big for cornerbacks to cover effectively, too fast for linebackers – then the Philadelphia Eagles may have just made a wise choice.
The Eagles signed the 26-year-old Zaruba on Monday after putting him through a workout on Sunday.
A profile of Zaruba in the Vancouver Sun says he played American football at Carson Graham Secondary school in the city, and was recruited to play at Simon Fraser University, the only Canadian college that is part of the NCAA, playing at the Division II level.
But football didn’t work out, as Zaruba put it: he redshirted his freshman year, didn’t play in his second and was ineligible in his third. That’s when he found his way to rugby, and three years ago became a full-time member of the national team.
Zaruba’s star turn at the World Rugby Sevens Series earlier this year drew the attention of a South African agent who was developing NFL contacts.
When he was asked if he’d like to give the NFL a try, Zaruba answered in the affirmative.
He had to change his workouts to include speed work, including the all-important 40-yard dash.
Rugby players in the NFL are still relatively rare, though it happens: Nate Ebner, a safety and special-teams ace for the Patriots, was a rugby star when he was younger and returned to the sport to take part in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio as part of the U.S. team; the San Francisco 49ers had Australian rugby standout Jarryd Hayne on their practice squad and 53-man roster in 2015.
If Zaruba can make catches like this in Philadelphia’s practices, he’ll be just fine: