Tue. May 21st, 2024
taylor-alert-–-from-the-mud,-sweat-and-tears-of-the-rugby-field-to-the-glitz-and-glamour-of-the-nfl:-as-‘behemoth-from-basingstoke’-is-drafted-by-buffalo-bills,-how-host-of-other-british-players-have-decided-to-swap-their-sport-for-american-football-fameTaylor Alert – From the mud, sweat and tears of the rugby field to the glitz and glamour of the NFL: As ‘Behemoth from Basingstoke’ is drafted by Buffalo Bills, how host of other British players have decided to swap their sport for American football fame

The chance to earn millions a year, wider coverage and sporting stardom are just some of the reasons why British rugby league stars are hanging up their boots and trading it for a life in the NFL. 

On Saturday it was announced Travis Clayton – who has never played a competitive game of American football – had been snapped up by the Buffalo Bills in the seventh round of the NFL draft as an offensive lineman.

It means Clayton, who last played rugby for eighth-tier Basingstoke RFC last year, will be the latest in a string of rugby league players to head across the Atlantic to break into the American football league. 

Over the last seven years, seven former British rugby players have been picked up from the NFL’s International Player Pathway, after being deemed talented young players able to make it on the football field.

Clayton’s move comes after Welsh star Louis Rees-Zammit announced he would be joining the Kanas City Chiefs alongside Taylor Swift’s boyfriend Travis Kelce, while Northampton Saints player Harry Mallinder also made the move earlier this year.

Yet while some have gained success on contracts starting at $884,000, others such as Christian Wade have returned to rugby following a ‘lonely’ stint across the pond.

Some of the talented stars have even left the sporting world all together, such as 6ft9in Christian Scotland-Williamson who traded in his athletic career to become a barrister. 

Foreign players in the NFL are few and far between, with success stories even rarer. But as Clayton embarks on his journey with the Buffalo Bills, takes a look back at the other players who have tried to break into the sport.

Yesterday it was announced Travis Clayton - who has never played a competitive game of American football - had been snapped up by the Buffalo Bills

Yesterday it was announced Travis Clayton – who has never played a competitive game of American football – had been snapped up by the Buffalo Bills

It comes after Welsh rugby star Louis Rees-Zammitt signed with the Kansas City Chiefs 

Christian Scotland-Williamson was also selected to join the NFL but later traded in his athletic career to become a barrister

Christian Scotland-Williamson was also selected to join the NFL but later traded in his athletic career to become a barrister

Travis Clayton 

Travis Clayton is set for sporting stardom after he was picked out of hundreds from the NFL’s International Player Pathway.

READ HERE:  Buffalo Bills seventh-round NFL Draft pick Travis Clayton has never played a game of competitive American football but the 6ft 7ins Basingstoke Behemoth is ready to BREAK America

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Born in Basingstoke and had his first job working at Sainsburys, more recently working screening employment backgrounds. 

Yet the 6ft7in athlete could soon be earning tens of millions as he follows in the footsteps of former rugby stars cherry picked for the game.

‘Buffalo came to me. Buffalo wanted me. I’m just ready to work,’ he told the crowd on Saturday. ‘I don’t think it’s really going to kick in yet until I actually get to Buffalo. But at the moment, it’s a world of emotions going on right now. It’s crazy.’

His mother Nicky Clayton yesterday posted a picture with her son at an NFL event thanking ‘the people of Basingstoke’ for all the support they have given him.

She added: ‘We are over the moon to announce that Travis Clayton has just been drafted into the NFL Buffalo Bills. He is so special. We couldn’t be prouder and love you so much.’ 

The 23-year-old’s athletic success will likely not come as a surprise to his loved ones who saw his promising sporting career blossom over the years.

Travis Clayton is set for sporting stardom after he was picked out of hundreds from the NFL's International Player Pathway (pictured during the course)

Travis Clayton is set for sporting stardom after he was picked out of hundreds from the NFL’s International Player Pathway (pictured during the course)

Clayton reacts after being picked by the Buffalo Bills with the 221st overall pick in the seventh round during the third day of the NFL football draft

Clayton reacts after being picked by the Buffalo Bills with the 221st overall pick in the seventh round during the third day of the NFL football draft

As a child Clayton reportedly played for Fulham's football academy, also trying out for Reading, Southampton and Chelsea

As a child Clayton reportedly played for Fulham’s football academy, also trying out for Reading, Southampton and Chelsea

Clayton's mother Nicky Clayton yesterday posted a picture with her son at an NFL event thanking 'the people of Basingstoke' for all the support they have given him

Clayton’s mother Nicky Clayton yesterday posted a picture with her son at an NFL event thanking ‘the people of Basingstoke’ for all the support they have given him

When he was young Clayton reportedly played for Fulham’s football academy, also trying out for Reading, Southampton and Chelsea. Deciding football was not quite the right choice, he also tried out boxing and rowing before moving to rugby.

Now weighing 21.5 stone, Clayton completed the NFL’s 40 metre dash in 4.79 seconds – the fastest time recorded by Bills scouts for an offensive lineman in the last decade. 

Louis Rees-Zammit

Clayton’s breakthrough follows in the footsteps of 23-year-old Welsh rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit.

In March, on the same day that Wales confirmed its squad for the 2024 Six Nations, the young star announced he would be signing a $884,000 contract with the Kansas City Chiefs – the same team as Taylor Swift’s boyfriend Travis Kelce.

The exact details of his contract are unknown but it is believed that it is a three-year contract.

The young players move to the States served as a blow to Welsh Rugby after he took part in winning Six Nations Championship in 2021, landing him a place on the British and Irish Lions squad. 

Former rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit signed with Super Bowl winners Kansas City Chiefs

Former rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit signed with Super Bowl winners Kansas City Chiefs

It comes after Welsh rugby star Louis Rees-Zammitt signed with the Kansas City Chiefs

It comes after Welsh rugby star Louis Rees-Zammitt signed with the Kansas City Chiefs 

Rees-Zammit will join the Chiefs on a training contract, with the NFL currently in the off-season

In March, on the same day that Wales confirmed its squad for the 2024 Six Nations, the young star announced he would be signing a $884,000 contract with the Kansas City Chiefs

In March, on the same day that Wales confirmed its squad for the 2024 Six Nations, the young star announced he would be signing a $884,000 contract with the Kansas City Chiefs

The young players move to the States served as a blow to Welsh Rugby after he took part in winning Six Nations Championship in 2021

The young players move to the States served as a blow to Welsh Rugby after he took part in winning Six Nations Championship in 2021

The move shocked the rugby union world when he quit the sport which brought him 32 Wales caps

The move shocked the rugby union world when he quit the sport which brought him 32 Wales caps

The move shocked the rugby union world when he quit the sport which brought him 32 Wales caps.  

Yet it had been a life-long dream for the Penarth-born athlete who had watched his father play American football which ‘planted the seeds’ for his new-found career.

Rees-Zammit joined the same international programme as Clayton and has since been glued to the screen learning the new rules of the game.

‘It’s been my dream to continue [my father’s] legacy, and inspire other athletes back home to be confident enough to make this change if they have a desire to try,’ he told The Times. 

‘My father told me not to have any regrets. And I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life if I never gave American football a real go.’ 

Harry Mallinder

Another British player to head to the NFL through the international pathway is 27-year-old Harry Mallinder.

The former Northampton Saints player, who was part of the team from 2013 to 2021, announced in January he would also be turning his attention to the NFL. 

During his rugby-career, Mallinder was the captain and arguably the best player in England’s U20 World Cup win in 2016, and is targeting a career as a punter in the States. 

Though he was never capped at senior level by his country, Mallinder was called up to Eddie Jones’ squad to face Argentina in 2017, and many had high hopes for his future with the wing versatile and talented.

Another British player to head to the NFL through the international pathway is 27-year-old Harry Mallinder

Another British player to head to the NFL through the international pathway is 27-year-old Harry Mallinder

The former Northampton Saints player, who was part of the team from 2013 to 2021, announced in January he would also be turning his attention to the NFL

The former Northampton Saints player, who was part of the team from 2013 to 2021, announced in January he would also be turning his attention to the NFL

Mallinder said that America offered a 'fantastic opportunity and a fresh start'

Mallinder said that America offered a ‘fantastic opportunity and a fresh start’ 

Things didn’t quite materialise how he had hoped, and a knee injury in 2018 stalled his career, and an unsuccessful spell in Japan with Ricoh Black Rams left him with no clear direction regarding what was next.

Mallinder said that America offered a ‘fantastic opportunity and a fresh start’ in January.

‘I think it is something I’ve always been fascinated by,’ he told the Indepdent. ‘Obviously it was quite a long shot and there was no real opportunity there for a long time, but hearing about this, I thought why not give it a go.

‘I’m not just here to make up the numbers. While I want to enjoy every moment of this experience, I’m also here to make it happen. I want to make this my thing.’

Christian Wade

Like Clayton, Christian Wade left his rugby league position to also join Buffalo Bills in 2019.

He ditched his role as a winger for the premiership team Wasps, after scoring 82 tries in 165 appearances between 2011 and 2018, before joining the NFL team.

Growing up in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, Wade’s first job at age 15 was at a Kumon club where he taught maths and English twice a week for £40. It is the only job Wade had other than professional sport.

As soon as he left school, he joined the London Wasps being paid around £17,000 before jumping to £250,000 plus before he left for NFL.

During his rugby career he touched with England to South Africa in 2012, Argentina in 2013 as well as .  

Christian Wade left his rugby league position to also join Buffalo Bills in 2019. Pictured in Buffalo

Christian Wade left his rugby league position to also join Buffalo Bills in 2019. Pictured in Buffalo  

Despite his ability to score tries, Wade only won one cap for England before quitting rugby

Despite his ability to score tries, Wade only won one cap for England before quitting rugby

Wade has stated his desire to remain with the Bills but has growing interests outside NFL

Wade has stated his desire to remain with the Bills but has growing interests outside NFL

Growing up in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, Wade's first job at age 15 was at a Kumon club where he taught maths and English twice a week for £40

Growing up in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, Wade’s first job at age 15 was at a Kumon club where he taught maths and English twice a week for £40

Wade is now back playing rugby union with French club Racing 92, adding that he was 'lonely' while in America

Wade is now back playing rugby union with French club Racing 92, adding that he was ‘lonely’ while in America

When questioned at the time why he made the switch to NFL Wade told the Telegraph he wanted to ‘test’ himself ‘against the very best athletes in the world’.

He said that while money was a ‘useful tool tapping into [his] true potential was the priority. Wade said his belief at the time was ‘money will follow later’.

In 2022, he said he had no regrets on giving up his rugby career. ‘I’ve had offers all the time since I’ve been over here. But rugby is not really on the cards for me,’ he said.

Yet for Wade, life in the NFL was not all it was cracked up to be and he is now back playing rugby union with French club Racing 92, adding that he was ‘lonely’ while in America.

Speaking after Rees-Zammit announced his career change, Wade, 32 said: ‘It is going to get real, real fast. I know how lonely it is going to get so I wish him the best of luck.

‘We actually caught up over Instagram and I told him if he needs any advice, then hit me up.’

‘I think Louis has definitely got a big challenge ahead of him,’ he added. ‘With his athletic ability and the accolades he already has got in rugby, I think he has got the right mindset and attitude to go and do well.’

Christian Scotland-Williamson

Christian Scotland-Williamson left his rugby career after becoming frustrated by the lack of opportunities at Worcester Warriors.

But a clip of the 6ft9in player tackling a Wasps player went viral and eventually came to the attention of NFL Scouts. It led the Englishman to join the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018.

‘Coach Mike Tomlin said to me: ‘I don’t care where you come from – if you can help us win, you’ll play’. That wasn’t something that I had never experienced in rugby,’ Scotland-Williamson recalled earlier this year.

‘But the whole first year was really tough. Getting cussed out every single day because you were making mistakes. 

Christian Scotland-Williamson left his rugby career after becoming frustrated by the lack of opportunities at Worcester Warriors

Christian Scotland-Williamson left his rugby career after becoming frustrated by the lack of opportunities at Worcester Warriors 

The former athlete, who already had an economics degree, decided to start a law conversion. He now works as a barrister. Pictured: Scotland-Williamson as a child

The former athlete, who already had an economics degree, decided to start a law conversion. He now works as a barrister. Pictured: Scotland-Williamson as a child

A clip of the 6ft9in player tackling a Wasps player went viral and eventually came to the attention of NFL Scouts. Pictured: Scotland-Williamson as a child

A clip of the 6ft9in player tackling a Wasps player went viral and eventually came to the attention of NFL Scouts. Pictured: Scotland-Williamson as a child

Waltham Forest born Scotland-Williamson returned to England and attempted to rejoin Harlequins, but failed to make an appearance

Waltham Forest born Scotland-Williamson returned to England and attempted to rejoin Harlequins, but failed to make an appearance

‘You feel like you can’t put one foot in front the other and you are really having to put a significant amount of work in just to change the mindset and to have people believe that you could potentially do it. Initially it was just like: ‘Why have I come out here?’ 

Yet despite building a strong relationship with head coach Mike Tomlin, injury meant that he never made the active roster. 

He had torn his hamstring the Covid pandemic hit further dampening his prospects and affecting his mental health.

‘I flew home from America in November 2020 and mentally was in a pretty bad way, especially with how things ended and how much work I’d put in,’ he told TalkSport last year.

‘My dad was on a ventilator from Covid while I was out there and I was in constant nerve pain, which is the worst pain I can describe.

‘I had a surgery out there that went wrong as the surgery was done in the wrong place. I flew back and couldn’t walk 600m for almost a year and was suffering from depression.’

Waltham Forest born Scotland-Williamson returned to England and attempted to rejoin Harlequins, but failed to make an appearance. 

The former athlete, who already had an economics degree, decided to start a law conversion. He now works as a barrister.

Alex Gray

Alex Gray, 32, was the trail-blazer when it came to British rugby stars jumping ship to play in the NFL.

As with Clayton, Gray had never played a game of American football in his life and the closest he ever came to the football field was playing a video game with his brother.

Yet after taking part in the 10-week international programme in Florida in 2017, he found himself being flown out to meet his future team, the Atlanta Falcons. 

‘It’s pretty funny how it all worked out,’ Gray told CNN at the time. ‘I remember talking to my agent around Christmas time and telling him what I was going to do with rugby. 

Alex Gray, 32, was the trail-blazer when it came to British rugby stars jumping ship to play in the NFL

Alex Gray, 32, was the trail-blazer when it came to British rugby stars jumping ship to play in the NFL

Gray (L) improved immensely since switching and captained the Falcons in a pre-season game 

Gray (L) improved immensely since switching and captained the Falcons in a pre-season game 

Gray believes teams will be 'licking their lips' at the prospect of working with the Wasps man

Gray believes teams will be ‘licking their lips’ at the prospect of working with the Wasps man

Despite the jump to the Atlanta Falcons, Gray (pictured in 2010) struggled to get into the main roster of the sport and two years later he looked to return to a rugby career in Bath

Despite the jump to the Atlanta Falcons, Gray (pictured in 2010) struggled to get into the main roster of the sport and two years later he looked to return to a rugby career in Bath

Leaving his rugby and American football career behind, Gray featured as Apollo on the reboot of the 90s tv show Gladiators

‘And I said, tongue-in-cheek, ‘if nothing else comes up, why don’t we just go to the NFL and make a load of money?’

‘We had a laugh about that, but I think it must have been two weeks later where he says ‘I’ve had some NFL UK scouts on the phone and they want to meet with you.’

‘Before coming here I had played absolutely no American football. The only thing I had ever done was thrown a ball about with my mates when I was younger.’

Ahead of his stardom in the NFL, Gray was a London Irish back-rower. He was one of the first Brits to move to the game through the International Player Pathway and was the first rugby game. 

Despite the jump to the Atlanta Falcons, he struggled to get into the main roster of the sport and two years later he looked to return to a rugby career in Bath – yet it was brief with him only making six appearances between 2020 and 2021. 

Leaving his rugby and American football career behind, Gray featured as Apollo on the reboot of the 90s tv show Gladiators.