Former rugby star’s path to the NFL was filled with risk, but Eagles OL Coach saw the potential reward


In January of this year, a 20-year old Australian decided to move across the world in order to try and make a living. In doing so, he left behind a promising career in his current line of work in pursuit of a much bigger industry. That alone raises eyebrows, but when that young man is pushing for a career in the most cut-throat league of all, the NFL, it’s shocking. But it’s exactly what Jordan Maitala has done.

Picked in the seventh round of yesterday’s NFL Draft, Maitala will be a part of a Super Bowl winning franchise that prides itself on a prowess in the trenches. It just so happens that the trenches is exactly where Maitala will play…and this pick was more than just a shot in the dark.

With help from the NFL’s International player pathway program, the 6’8, 348 lbs beast held a pro day at IMG. It was there, he met a future coach, Jeff Stoutland.

“I got the workout in and I feel like I had earned a little bit of Coach Stoutland’s respect that day because he gave me a big challenge and I feel like it was challenging but he gave me a thumbs up at the end of the session.” Maitala explained on a conference call after the pick was made. “He said I had an outstanding session and workout.”

If there’s one thing we know about Jeff Stoutland, it’s that he has a knack for grooming some of the finest talent in the NFL. Whether it’s Lane Johnson or Jason Kelce, Stoutland has been the man responsible for the development of the most intimidating offensive line in the NFL. The newly promoted run-game coordinator spent time intricately trying to learn as much as he could about this freak athlete.

“I guess he was just challenging me based on coachability, that’s one thing that he said.” Maitala explained. “He said, ‘It is one thing if you’re able to be an athlete, but if you can’t be coachable there is no point of drafting you or signing you because if you can’t be coached then there is no point in playing a team sport.’ So that’s one thing that he challenged me was to see if I was coachable and see if I could understand what he was asking of me in that moment, either if it was on the board or on the field with the task that he was showing me with the drills.”

The South Sydney Rabbitohs star has an incredibly rare physical skillset, as well as impressive size. 35.5 inch arms, a 5.12 40-yard dash and a 4.67 yard short shuttle headline a phenomenal list of tangibles for an offensive lineman. It’s a no-brainer as to why Stoutland was looking to see how coachable Maitala was, especially considering that in his own words, he knew ‘as little as peanuts’ about the NFL.

Knowing this would be a challenge, the rugby star dialed in roughly four and a half outs of physical training and then three hours in the film room, where he would break down schemes, learn techniques and the basic roles of each position on the line…with an extra emphasis on tackle.

“I have to be thankful for the program that I am in, because the last three or four months have not been easy – mentally challenging as well as physically.” The draftee explained. “Trying to understand the basics and fundamentals of football has been a great task. So little knowledge before I came in, but I can happily say now that I can understand concepts and am beginning to have a step in the right direction.”

Maitala must have done something right because not only did the Eagles draft him, but they traded up to acquire his talent. This will be a giant leap for the Australia native. The aggressiveness and tenacity used in rugby will have to be converted into patience and mental toughness as an offensive lineman, but he has one of the best brains in the business to help him do exactly that.

The ceiling is unknown, but as Maitala took the biggest risk of his life in leading a comfortable career behind him, the Eagles took a risk in trading up for a player who has never played en even an amateur snap of Football in his life. But with all of the resources in the world and an offensive line coach who clearly saw the upside in him, he has every chance of making it.