Former Rugby Star Daniel Adongo From Kenya Makes Indianapolis Colts Defensive Roster

Lost amid all the hoopla of Jarryd Hayne’s jump straight from rugby into the top tier of American football with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers is Kenya’s Daniel Adongo’s similar but less publicized journey from rugby in Africa to the Indianapolis Colts.

Adongo makes his debut on the Colts defensive roster this Sunday after two long years of waiting, when Indianapolis faces the Atlanta Falcons. He did see playing time on special teams two years ago but due to an injury in 2014 did not play and has finally regained the form and experience to help the team on defense.

However, his story has not gained the notoriety of the “Hayne Plane” and there has not been an entourage of Kenyan press following his every move. That may change come Sunday.

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Two years ago, Adongo was spotted playing professional rugby in South Africa by Johnny Gbenda-Charles, a rugby agent based in Hong Kong, who contacted the Colts. In 2013, he played for the Southern Kings of Super 15 Rugby, the highest level of pro rugby in the world. He had spent the previous three years playing in South Africa and he also competed for the Kenyan Under–18 and Under–21 national teams.

After watching film the Colts decided to take a chance on him. After all, he was a big, mobile, fast and physical player. In fact, the 6-foot-6, 247-pound Adongo looks like he was chiseled from stone. When he was brought over to Indianpolis, in his first attempt at the broad jump, the 24-year-old cleared 11 feet, a mark which would have placed him among the top 10 among participants at the 2013 NFL Combine, according to the Monday Morning Quarterback’s Robert Klemko.

His fellow outside linebacker, German-born Bjoern Werner has been impressed with his development:

“(Adongo) did a great job in the preseason. He played physical. He’s out there giving it his all. His technique and everything has gotten so much better after Year Three. He looks pretty good.”

In his preseason debut against the Philadelphia Eagles, Adongo played 28 defensive snaps, recording one tackle and two quarterback hurries from his outside linebacker position.

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When the Colts first brought Adongo to the United States, in the days before the 2013 Training Camp, they were encountering a project unlike any other in NFL history at the time. Outside of Adongo’s world-class physical traits, he brought a work ethic necessary to even still be hanging around the league two years later. That work ethic has carried him through the disappointment of watching the 2014 season evaporate due to his injury and then having to remain on the practice squad in 2015.

Until now.

Ask Adongo’s teammates, and they marvel at the development. D’Qwell Jackson has spent two seasons with Adongo:

“From my experience around (Adongo), he’s making tremendous strides. From not knowing anything about playing this game, he’s come over and adapted to this environment. He’s a tireless worker. He’s always working extra, taking care of his body. He’s doing everything necessary to be successful and it’s showing. He’s shown flashes that he can rush the passer. That light switch is clicking on for him so the more reps he gets, the better he’s going to be.”

Whether he sticks with the Colts or moves on to another team, there is no question that Daniel Adongo has paved the way, not just for rugby players in the NFL, but for African players with no college experience.

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Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.