Chasing the American Dream
Harare – Daniel Adongo had never been to the United States, until he arrived in Indianapolis last week, chasing the most unlikely of American dreams.
Seven years ago, he had been spotted by the South African rugby scouts, playing rugby at the Safari Sevens in his native Kenya, and a move to Natal Sharks Academy came the following year.
But while other Sharks Academy graduates like Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira have blossomed into global superstars of the game, Adongo has barely set the scene alight in a career that has been, at best, unspectacular.
He made just 10 appearances for the Sharks in 2011, scoring 15 points, before moving to the Bulls last year where he made even fewer appearances, eight, and scored even fewer points – five.
This year, he played Super Rugby for the Southern Kings, the weakest team in South Africa, and made only five appearances and did not contribute even a point.
But, crucially, the 23-year-old Kenyan didn’t miss a single tackle in those games and at 196cm and carrying a huge 116kg frame, that means something for those who look for someone so powerful to use as outside in American Football.
And, last week, Adongo completed the remarkable transformation of moving from rugby union, in the Eastern Cape, to become the first Kenyan to sign for a National Football League club, and the fortune that come with being an American footballer.
“It came as a shock,” Adongo told journalists on his first day in camp, in comments published by the official website of the Indianapolis Colts, the team made popular around the world by legendary quarterback, Peyton Manning, who led them to the Super Bowl triumph in 2006.
“It's not really chasing a dream, I want to make it a reality.
“It's great to take baby steps and be patient, but the biggest thing is to be patient with myself, allow myself a good learning curve and not beat myself up.
“I don't think it's going to be difficult. It's a mindset and mental thing. Once I'm switched on to that, grab it and go.”
But, until last week, Adongo was a man who had never worn an American football helmet and, to be brutally frank, one who did not understand the DNA of a game that is played primarily in the United States and has been converted into a multi-billion-dollar industry.
Interestingly, it’s the Indiana Colts management who scouted for him and believed they could make a fine NFL player out of him.
That means that, until the flood of communication between the Indiana Colts and him about five weeks ago, Adongo didn’t have an idea that he could be reporting for the team’s pre-season at Anderson University.
No wonder he looks excited about it all.
“Thank you all for the well wishes and support received it’s been much appreciated,” Adongo tweeted on Saturday as he started to give the first indications of where he is likely to play in his new profession.
“I think when you put the two (sports) together in terms of size and what I do on the rugby pitch, the easiest transition is to outside linebacker.
“The coaches wanted me to have the easiest transition from rugby to the NFL.
“If something feels right, I'm not going to doubt myself or second guess. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It felt right so I did what I felt was right for me.”
Having never set foot in the United States before, Adongo travelled alone for his date with destiny, which has turned him from a virtually unknown Kenyan rugby player, plying his trade for the unfashionable Southern Kings, into this sporting sensation, thanks to the publicity blitz brought by his new NFL ties.
That is probably expected because, until Adongo arrived in Indianapolis to sign for the Colts, no Kenyan had ever travelled that path.
But he has found great company at the Colts and believes he has already fitted into their huge family.
“I've got a good family, a big family,” Adongo said, “so I don't think I'm a lone ranger.”
Where this takes the Colts no one will know and, by all accounts, this is an experiment that could either work out, in a very big way, or it could all fade away and, lost in the razzmatazz of American football, Adongo might wonder why he made the transition.
Interestingly, those who run the franchise are bullish that this could all work out and turn into a match made in heaven.
“We are excited as an organisation with the acquisition of Daniel Adongo,” said Indiana Colts general manager, Ryan Grigson.
“He is not only an elite athlete and rising international rugby player, but he is an exceptional competitor and human being that has the right makeup for our sport.
“We all look forward to watching his growth and development in the ensuing weeks.”
The last time that the Colts were Super Bowl champions, the coveted prize in American football, was in 2006 when they beat the Chicago Bears, during the Peyton Manning years, 29-17 in the final.
Adongo was still in Kenya, playing rugby at the Safaricom Sevens, but this was also his breakthrough year as that was when he was spotted by the scouts leading to his journey into the world of South African scouts.
It has been a good Northern Hemisphere summer for Kenyan sport with rising 21-year-old football star, Victor Wanyama, becoming the first player from the East African country to sign for an English Premiership team in a £12.5m move from Glasgow Celtic.
It’s the highest fee ever paid to a Scottish club for a football player.
Last week, Kenyan-born cyclist, Chris Froome, became the first rider, born in Africa, to win the Tour de France in 100 years of the biggest cycling race in the world.