The countdown continues—just 89 days until the Falcons begin their season on September 8th. The number 89 is not just the amount of days left until opening day but is also a number that belongs to a player on the team who is not usually in the limelight. The United Kingdom’s Alex Gray is not just any practice squad player—he is also extremely accomplished rugby player back home in England.
After having a successful career playing for the England National Rugby team and the England Sevens, Gray decided to pursue a career in American football. He attended the NFL Combine through the NFL’s International program. The NFC South allows teams to have one extra practice squad player if they are international, but they cannot be activated the first season after they sign. The tight end signed a future contract with the team.
Gray clearly has the skills needed to become a great American football player given his incredible rugby skills. Rugby and football share many of the same skills like hand-eye coordination, running, ball-handling and most-importantly how to protect yourself from a hard tackle. Gray is not the first rugby player to take a stab at American football—Richard Tardits who played in the early 90’s and Jordan Mailata who was selected to play on the 53-man roster for the Philadelphia Eagles last season are two great examples of rugby-turned-football players.
Falcons fans should be on the lookout for Gray in the upcoming seasons. When the time comes for Gray to play on the 53-man roster, make sure to take a close look at how rugby might have translated over to his football skills.