Colts bring Kenyan rugby player into NFL
By Tim Tuttle
Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson’s most dramatic move in an active off-season was not to offer long-time star defensive end-turned-linebacker Dwight Freeney a new contact. Freeney will spend his 12th NFL season in San Diego, where he hopes to prove Grigson made a serious miscalculation in allowing him to leave.
Grigson also shipped out 2010 No. 1 draft choice Jerry Hughes, projected to be a Freeney-style pass rusher who never panned out, to Buffalo for inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and invested owner Jim Irsay’s money heavily in a group of free agents.
Those were conventional moves designed for immediate impact and take the Colts back to the Super Bowl. They were a surprise playoff team a year ago with rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and a supporting cast that was largely different from 2011 and fostered their belief the Colts weren’t far from returning to being among the NFL’s elite.
Grigson also made an extremely unconventional choice for one of the 90 roster positions, signing Daniel Adongo, who was playing for the Southern Kings of Super 15 Rugby in Pretoria, South Africa. It’s the premier rugby league in the world, but Adongo had never played a down of American football. He’s 6-foot-6, 247 pounds and 23 years old. The Colts brought him in for a workout and then signed him, so you have to figure he runs at NFL-caliber speed. The Colts haven’t announced his 40-yard time.
The Colts have listed him on the roster as an outside linebacker, but he wasn’t anywhere in the initial depth chart they released this week. He’s a project and a prospect and his position destination is unknown. Adongo has the potential to become a tight end or grow into a defensive end or be a big target wide receiver.
Grigson’s out-of-the-box thinking was this, telling Colts.com: “As a staff, we’d rather give the coaches something to work with than just a true camp body that we know is going to be cut in a week or two and is not going to help us where we want to go. You really have to really do some serious digging and digging and turning over some international rocks, so to speak, to find someone that at least has the body, the attributes and the traits that may transition or may not, so we’re just taking a look at it.”
Adongo, a native of Kenya, wouldn’t become the first African to play in the NFL. Christian Okoye played for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1987 to 1992 and led the NFL in rushing in 1989. He was 260-pounds and ran 4.4 in the 40, 10.5 in the 100 meters at Azusa Pacific University in southern California and the Chiefs made him their No. 2 pick in the 1987 draft.
Okoye arrived at Azusa Pacific on a track scholarship and won NAIA championships in the shot put, discus and hammer throw. When the Nigerian Olympic team didn’t select him for the Olympics even thought he’d met the qualifying standards, he decided to try football and played for three seasons. He had a big head start on Adongo, but it was still a long leap from an NAIA program to the NFL.
Grigson began looking for an international athlete who could become an NFL player last fall.
“A pro scout of ours, Jon Shaw, was kind of delegated the duty of like, ‘Hey, this is your baby. Let’s see what you can do with it, see if you can give me a cluster of guys that are worthwhile, the right age group, have the right traits, the right make up to actually even be able to even make the transition since it’s a major one,” Grigson told Colts.com. “Once you see him (Adongo) move around with those long limbs and you see the type of competitor and really the traits he has as a human being and as an athlete, you have something to work with.
“You basically have a lump of clay for these coaches to work with. Our linebacker coach (Jeff Fitzgerald) said, ‘He’s truly a blank canvas. It’s not like he came from a small school or he came as a guy who hadn’t played since high school. We’re talking about a guy who hasn’t been able to learn any bad habits because he’s never played.”
The Colts, if they keep him, have three years to work with Adongo, who wears No. 46, in preseason and the practice squad, to find his best position and develop him into an NFL player. The process could start Sunday when the Colts host Buffalo in the preseason opener at Lucas Oil Stadium. It will be a journey worth watching and, if successful, could send other NFL teams to regularly assign international scouts. In addition to being a prospect and a project, Adongo could become a prototype.