Lone Toailoa has a chance to be the next New Zealander in the NFL, as he awaits news whether he will be selected for the International Player Pathway Program.
Instituted in 2017, the program aims to provide elite international athletes the opportunity to compete at the NFL level, improve their skills, and ultimately earn a spot on an NFL roster.
Having graduated last year from the University of California, 25-year-old Toailoa, who played rugby at Kelston Boys High before heading overseas, will find out on May 1 if he’s made the cut – which would be the next big step in his career.
“It’s going to be hard and that’s what the camp is meant to do, is prepare us for that and make sure we can get into the active roster and represent this programme as best as we can,” said Toailoa.
“I’m a bit nervous about it, but I’ve put my best foot forward in this camp.”
One of the NFL’s eight divisions, to be chosen at random, will receive the international players selected for the 2021 program.
At the conclusion of preseason training camp, each player will be eligible for an international player practice squad exemption with his assigned team for the season.
“I’ve always had a dream as a kid, I was from Kelston Boys, everyone had a rugby dream and I was the odd one out having a football dream, trying to make it to the NFL. It will mean a lot to not only me, to my family as well because they know how passionate I am about the sport,” said Toailoa.
“I’d like to go to any team but if I were to pick a team, I’m a big Eagles fan but the Eagles have already been selected in the programme so I would love to go to the 49ers in San Fran.
“I like the defensive scheme that they run. It’s a front that I’m familiar with, that I feel like will best suit my capabilities as a defensive lineman but they also have an offence that plays with a fullback so it’s a position that I’m also trying to pick up that my rugby background could help me out in.”
Toailoa considers the sport to have been “life changing” for him and wants to promote the sport for other athletes in New Zealand.
“I got a degree from the top public university in the country just from playing the sport. It can change lives just like it changed mine so that’s why I’m just trying to advocate for these athletes who are back home to pick up the gridiron.
“I just want to give them another outlet instead of thinking rugby’s the only way to go if you were big and strong and you have some athletic ability.
“I honestly was just a kid at Kelston, a year nine just getting laughed at because I was throwing a football around.
“Who would’ve known that I’d be over here.”
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