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How 2 guys from Australia took completely different paths and ended up on the same NFL team

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Almost 10,000 miles from home, two Aussies are making an impact in Philadelphia.

The NFL continues to try and expand their reach beyond the borders of the United States, and among one of the more frequent producers of international football talent is Australia. The Eagles are among the most popular destination for athletic Aussies, with two making the team’s 2018 final 53-man roster.

Despite more and more players coming from the continent, Aussies make up less than 1% of NFL rosters. That percentage varies from team-to-team — more than half of NFL teams don’t have any international players at all — but 3.8% of the Eagles roster is made up of Australian natives.

There are a few different paths Australian athletes can follow to break into American football, but the most popular are either by way of the NFL’s International Pathway program or through an American football kicking program.

The Eagles’ OT Jordan Mailata and P Cameron Johnston took completely different routes from the land down under, and yet still ended up on the same NFL team nearly 10,000 miles from home.

Overview

COMPS Jordan Mailata Cameron Johnston
COMPS Jordan Mailata Cameron Johnston
Age 21 26
Region Sydney Melbourne
High School Sport Rugby Australian Football
College -- Ohio State
First Year on Eagles Roster 2018 2018

International Pathway program

Jordan Mailata became just the second international player ever to be drafted with no formal college football experience — the first being Moritz Böhringer in 2016. He had never played in a football game — be it peewee or otherwise — and was slotted in as an offensive tackle because of his gigantic stature and penchant to put guys on their asses.

Mailata’s career started out as a front rower for the National Rugby League’s South Sydney Rabbitohs, where he often trudged through opponents with players hanging off of him, yet unable to take him down.

(This is a rabbitoh:)

At 6’8 and over 350 pounds, Mailata was considered “too big” in some rugby circles, and it was something that could have affected his lucrative future in the sport. His agent decided to put together a highlight reel — that is now infamous — as a way to entice the rugby world, but it happened to garner some NFL attention too.

‘’At the same time it generated attention in the NFL,’’ Mailata said. ‘’I was quite lucky when I reached the crossroad in my life, the NFL pathway reached out to me as another avenue to pursue. That’s what it came down to.’’

After making the decision to transition to American football, Mailata made his way to the United States and began training at IMG Academy among other international players — most assigned to teams through the NFL’s International Pathway program.

Everything was new for Mailata, from getting fitted for his helmet — when he admitted he wasn’t sure how it was supposed to fit — to learning the actual verbiage of being an offensive lineman.

There has already been an influx of talent from around the world by way of the International Pathway program, a resource established in 2017 to bring foreign-born players into the NFL. It began with the NFC South and then the AFC North in 2018, as the program expanded to eight international players developing their American football skills.

“As part of the program, each team in the AFC North will carry an international player on their roster until the end of the 2018 training camp. At that time, the players will be eligible for an international player practice squad exemption. The exemption allows for an eleventh practice squad member, though they are ineligible to be activated during the season.”

Mailata ended up making the Eagles 53-man roster rather than being delegated to a year on the practice squad. He had certainly shown his potential during OTAs and training camp, and by not naming him to the practice squad, the Eagles showed that they didn’t want to risk another team claiming him off waivers. (Smart.)

Howie Roseman made it clear that the team moved up in the draft to snag Mailata, and they were committed to him longterm and to putting in the time needed to develop him.

Mailata showed a lot of drive during training camp, taking extra snaps after practice, and learning from players throughout the offense and defense to get a better understanding of the game overall. The talent and stature are definitely there, he just needs a little more time to be able to make an impact on game day.

NFL players average 10 years of experience playing football before starting their profession career, but Mailata is among a growing number of guys making their way to the United States without first playing among the college ranks or making their mark as a kicker.

Training as a kicker/punter

Punter Cam Johnston’s career started out as a member of an under-18 Australian rules football club in Melbourne. He was later drafted to the Melbourne Football Club in 2011, and played as a midfielder for Casey Stephens, the Melbourne affiliate team, for one season before being delisted and beginning his training in American football rules.

After one year training with Prokick Australia, Johnston earned a full scholarship to The Ohio State University, where in his freshman year, the Aussie led all Big Ten punters with a 44.0 per punt average, good for No. 16 nationally. During his collegiate career as a Buckeye, he was a member of the 2014 national championships team, was named the Eddleman-Fields Big Ten Punter of the Year, and earned numerous first- and second-team honors.

By attending college all four years of eligibility, Johnston took a fairly traditional route to the NFL. He trained for years, learned different techniques to keep him versatile, and even signed his first NFL contract as an undrafted free agents — as punters often do.

It might not be the quickest way to get your foot in the door with American football, but it is a tried and true method for football players near and far.

It’s also one of the more popular routes for Aussie’s to take to the NFL, with 7 of the 11 native Australian players signed or drafted from 2013 to 2016 being punters. Of those seven, two are currently on active rosters (Jordan Berry [PIT], Lachlin Edwards [NYJ]), and along with Johnston, Australian punters make up 9.3% of that position in the NFL.

As if Cam Johnston’s 81-yard bomb during the preseason wasn’t reason enough to get excited to watch punters from down under, 2018 NFL Draft pick Michael Dickson — the first Aussie drafted since 2016 — was one of the most exciting parts of the Seahawks team during their Monday Night Football appearance against the Bears.

Typically, an Australian punter has a bit of a wider repertoire than American punters, with many having experience in both rugby and American style kicking. The versatility allows NFL teams to put together different packages — just like Dickson on Monday — and just like Eagles head coach Doug Pederson has said they are working on with Johnston in Philly.

Is one path better than the other?

One disadvantage Johnston had to face was the delay in starting his path toward an NFL career. By the time he made the transition from Australian to American football, he was already 20, and didn’t join Ohio State’s football team until he was 21.

By comparison, Mailata was training and working out for NFL teams by the time he was 20, and was drafted just a month after his 21st birthday.

The 2018 season will mark the first one that both Mailata and Johnston are on NFL active rosters, and Mailata is five years younger. Sure, as a punter, Johnston has a much longer prospective career than an offensive tackle would, but there is clearly a lengthier development period for the path he took compared to Mailata.

Johnston does, however, have five years in the United States and an established support system in Philly and in Columbus. Mailata not having that same familiarity for a place he was now going to call home, is part of the reason o-line coach Jeff Stoutland really emphasized that they had all the support in the world that the Aussie would need.

The night before the Eagles’ first game of the regular season, Mailata was on the phone with Australian reporters and couldn’t help but note, “Good to hear another Aussie on the phone.”