At 207 centimetres and weighing 175kg, the Baltimore Raven’s Daniel Faalele will be the heaviest player on the roster in the upcoming National Football League (NFL) season.
- Australian Daniel Faalele has joined the Baltimore Ravens after playing college football in Minnesota
- The Melbourne-born player is following in the footsteps of players like Jesse Williams, who played for Seattle
- Williams won a Super Bowl ring with the Seahawks in 2014 and is now running camps to find Australia’s next American footballers
The 22-year-old hails from Melbourne, having never played the American code before he was scouted by the University of Hawaii at the age of 16.
“I definitely feel the pressure,” Faalele told the ABC.
“But my main thing is just proving to myself that I’m able to belong in this league and prove to myself that I’m athletic enough and big enough to play.”
Australia’s first and only Super Bowl champion, Jesse Williams, said exports like Faalele were showing young Australian players how their natural size and ability could be used by NFL teams.
“With a framework like that, any talented coach would turn that into something successful,” Williams said.
“I’m hoping he thrives with that and he’s leading the next generation of guys in the NFL.”
Williams, who was a part of the Seattle Seahawks squad that won the 2014 Super Bowl, was born on Thursday Island and grew up in Brisbane.
His exposure to American Football was almost non-existent.
Since retiring and returning to Australia, Williams is determined to open doors and help his successors find easier pathways to a potential career in the NFL.
“It’s going to be a lot of personal connections, calling a lot of friends,” he said.
“I feel like I have a bit of validity in the US so it’s helping open some doors, create some longer-lasting opportunities for these guys.”
Williams is currently working with Gridiron Australia, running training camps across the country to source and nurture young footballers.
He said it was important to expose more Australians to the American style of play, particularly those who had the larger physique recruiters were looking for.
“They’re not coming down here looking for ready football players, they’re coming here looking for raw talent, raw athleticism, the size. The football they can teach, the skills they can teach,” Williams said.
“[The sport] creates an amazing opportunity for a lot of the young guys that have the framework. They’re either too big for rugby union [or] they want to turn into something different.”
Exploring something different is why former Parramatta Eels under-20s player Noel Aukafolau turned up to one of Williams’s most recent training camps in Sydney.
Coming off an injury, the 23-year-old is in the midst of a year-long break from rugby league, and wanted to learn more about the running back position.
“Just the fundamentals of how to run, how to hold the ball, just the basics,” he said.
“I’ve grown up playing rugby league my whole life. This is my first time getting out of my shell.”
Aukafolau has followed the progress of fellow Australians like Valentine Holmes and Jordan Mailata, who have made the transition from rugby league to a successful career in the NFL.
Mailata, who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, has also become somewhat of a mentor to Faalele ahead of his rookie season.
“He’s just been a great resource and [is] just letting me know things about the league and help me feel more comfortable,” Faalele said.
“He’s just a great guy. [He] gave me his number the first time I met him so it’s great having an Aussie ally in the NFL.”
The one thing the Australian contingent of players in the NFL have in common is their work ethic, and Faalele is no different.
While his teammates were on a break, the rookie went straight into preseason training in Maryland.
“It was just the best decision for me just to be ready for training camp, ready to compete, and I feel like I wanted to do that for myself but also for my teammates and to show them that I care and that I want to be here,” he said.
That work ethic has impressed the Ravens’ offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, who said at a recent press conference he was “really happy with [Faalele]” and he had been “coming along by leaps and bounds”.
Faalele grew up playing rugby and basketball. Like Williams, he said recruiters would recognise raw talent when they saw it.
“I think the best thing you can do is just put yourself out there and reach out to coaches and just put together some type of tape of you being athletic or playing your position really well,” Faalele said.