What this 160kg Aussie NFL star won’t cop anymore

Aussie NFL player Jordan Mailata is a 6-foot-8 man mountain that lives by Bruce Lee quotes, loves yoga, plays guitar, adores country music singer Chris Stapleton and has been described by Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive coordinator as “the biggest human being ever seen”.

He also used to be a Rabbitohs under-20s wrecking ball, but Mailata doesn’t want to be known as a ‘rugby league player’ anymore.

After winning a starting job on the Eagles’ offensive line this pre-season, he actually wants to ‘scrub that past’ from his history completely.

Mailata has finally achieved what he’s been working towards for the last four years since being drafted by the Eagles at the start of 2018 as part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, and now he doesn’t want to look back.

“It’s up to me to go out there and scrub that rugby league past. For me it’s just an identity thing and who I want to be here in the United States and not in Australia,” Mailata told Wide World of Sports on a conference call from Philadelphia.

“I know deep down inside I will never forget my rugby league life but in terms of where I am now, it’s one thing for me to be accountable and professional in the sport I am in now.

“I want people to hold me accountable… not to give me the benefit of the doubt saying, ‘He’s a rugby league player, he doesn’t really know what he’s doing’.

“I honestly believe that I know the job. I can do the job.

“I just want to be seen as a football player and not the boy from Bankstown Bulls.”

BRUCE LEE LESSONS IN NFL TRANSITION

In rugby league heartland in western Sydney, that’s where Mailata caught the attention of the Bulldogs and then the Rabbitohs, playing in their junior sides before his size just didn’t seem compatible with the sport any longer. The NRL dream ended for Mailata and his unlikely career path to the NFL began despite never having played a snap.

And in American football his size was perfect for the offensive line.

“When I played at the Bunnies I was 143kg and that’s when I was at my lowest, with 10 per cent body fat,” the 24-year-old said.

“I’ll be honest I have no idea what I am in kilograms after being in the States for four years, but I’m like 155-160kg now.

“Playing in the offensive line it’s more based on technique. So I can afford to put on those extra kilos, but still making sure my body is flexible at the same time, to be able to bend, squat, hold for a couple of seconds and then come off the rock.

“There’s a Bruce Lee saying, ‘I do not fear the man who practices 10,000 kicks one time, I fear the man who practices one kick 10,000 times’. It’s natural for me now to play at this weight.”

MAILATA NOT ‘DROWNING’ ANYMORE

As left tackle in the NFL, Mailata’s job for the Eagles is to protect the blindside of electric quarterback Jalen Hurts and block effectively for the run game as part of a well-oiled machine that is the five-man offensive line.

In training camp, veteran teammate and Eagles centre Jason Kelce described his fellow O-lineman’s rise to being a starter as “remarkable”, and seeing as Mailata himself described the playbook as a “hundred-sided Rubik’s cube”, even he can’t believe how far he’s come in such a short time, understanding the in’s and out’s of American football.

“The first time I saw a playbook I nearly fainted,” Mailata said.

“Every year I fall more in love with the game and got more passionate about watching football. Even watching college football, now I can understand the game not just sitting there for hours on end scratching my head wondering what they’re doing.”

Philadelphia Eagles beat writers have tipped a big season for the Australian, after he took a massive leap this past year.

Injuries rocked the Eagles last season which led to Mailata getting a few starts and more game-time. Mailata said that while he was “drowning” at times, his experience helped take his skills to the next level this year and earn the respect of his coaches like never before.

“This time I’m going in with floaties, so now I’m not drowning anymore,” Mailata joked.

“I’ve got more tools in my bag to help me stay afloat this time.

“When I started playing more last year, after the first couple of starts, game day really started to slow down,” he added.

“It was much easier for me to focus on the plays and not be nervous or anxious. It all just came down to my preparation. The confidence – whenever I put out max in the gym, max on the field in practice and just worried about focusing on myself rather than the opponent – that’s when it started slowing down for me.”

AUSSIE FLAVOUR IN PHILLY

Mailata is one of seven Australians in the NFL this year (eight if you include players on practice squads) and in the Eagles he is one of three from Down Under.

Former Victorian Eagles punter Cameron Johnston departed Philadelphia for the Houston Texans in the off-season but NFL rookie and former St Kilda Saints forward Arryn Siposs has filled the Aussie void admirably, in addition to South Australian defensive end Matt Leo who is on the practice squad.

“It’s awesome. Everyone always gives us a bunch of stick going, ‘Hey maaate’ or ‘Are you gonna eat some Vegemite?’ They do their best Australian accent and I have to say, ‘I’m sorry to tell you, but you sound British not Australian’, and they start cracking up,” Mailata said of the Aussie flavour in Philadelphia.

“I always give banter to Arryn… he is just hilarious. Just a good guy, an awesome guy to talk to and understanding where he came from, we all have different journeys.

“Matt Leo was a plumber, I was an ex-Rabbitoh under-20s player and this bloke [Siposs] was playing in the AFL. It’s just incredible seeing three different stories on the one team.

“When we talk to each other, it’s just remarkable that we came from where we did and think, ‘Oh wow, look at us now living out the dream we wanted to do when we made the decision to take on this career path’. There’s comradery there from the Aussie boys.”

THE ‘ADDICTIVE’ FORCE DRIVING MAILATA

This year Mailata is determined to now keep the starting role he’s won after a tense training camp battle with 2019 first-round draft pick Andre Dillard, and continue improving his game, abiding by his mantra to every day get one per cent better at his “craft”.

“The feeling hasn’t really sunk in,” Mailata said of becoming a starter.

“To start in the NFL it’s a tough gig and a tough job to earn. For the team to have faith in me… it gives me that extra boost of confidence knowing that I earned the spot to start for this organisation and represent the city.

“It’s, like, addictive. Once you do something right and you know what that feeling is, you want to keep doing it over and over again. For me my goal is to keep working on my approach – how am I going to keep approaching everyday the same, being consistent.

“Because that’s the biggest thing about the NFL – trying to be consistent for a long time is going to be the hardest thing a player can do.”

On Monday morning (Australian time) against the Falcons in Atlanta, the Eagles begin their 2021 campaign for another NFL championship ring and Mailata will be out there for Philadelphia’s first offensive snap.

“I’m here everyday to win a championship for this city and this team, but at the same time I take it one day at a time,” he said.

“I’ve worked on my craft, I’m more confident going into this year.

“The last eight months, I’ve given so much and to be here today and solidify my position here in the league as an ex-rugby league player. I’m just a Samoan-Australian trying to make his name in the league.”

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