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Why Australian footballers are sidestepping rugby union and league to take a punt at winning a Super Bowl in the NFL

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At 207 centimeters and weighing 175 kg, the Baltimore Raven’s Daniel Faalele will be the heaviest player on the roster in the upcoming National Football League (NFL) season.

The 22-year-old hails from Melbourne, having never played the American code before he was scouted by the University of Hawaii at the age of 16.

“I definitely feel the pressure,” Faalele told the ABC.

“But my main thing is just proving to myself that I’m able to belong in this league and prove to myself that I’m athletic enough and big enough to play.”

Australia’s first and only Super Bowl champion, Jesse Williams, said exports like Faalele were showing young Australian players how their natural size and ability could be used by NFL teams.

“With a framework like that, any talented coach would turn that into something successful,” Williams said.

“I’m hoping he thrives with that and he’s leading the next generation of guys in the NFL.”

Williams, who was part of the Seattle Seahawks squad that won the 2014 Super Bowl, was born on Thursday Island and grew up in Brisbane.

His exposure to American Football was almost non-existent.

Jesse Williams holds an American football standing outside Stadium Australia.
Former NFL player Jesse Williams hopes more Australians will follow in his footsteps.(Supplied: Gridiron Australia)

Since retiring and returning to Australia, Williams is determined to open doors and help his successors find easier paths to a potential career in the NFL.

“It’s going to be a lot of personal connections, calling a lot of friends,” he said.

“I feel like I have a bit of validity in the US so it’s helping open some doors, create some longer-lasting opportunities for these guys.”

Williams is currently working with Gridiron Australia, running training camps across the country to source and nurture young footballers.

He said it was important to expose more Australians to the American style of play, particularly those who had the larger physique recruiters were looking for.

“They’re not coming down here looking for ready football players, they’re coming here looking for raw talent, raw athleticism, the size. The football they can teach, the skills they can teach,” Williams said.

“[The sport] creates an amazing opportunity for a lot of young guys who have the framework. They’re either too big for rugby union [or] they want to turn into something different.”

Exploring something different is why former Parramatta Eels under-20s player Noel Aukafolau turned up to one of Williams’s most recent training camps in Sydney.

Noel Aukafolau at an American football training camp
Rugby league player Noel Aukafolau was among those to attend one of Williams’ training camps.(Gridiron Australia)

Coming off an injury, the 23-year-old is in the middle of a year-long break from rugby league, and wanted to learn more about the running back position.

“Just the fundamentals of how to run, how to hold the ball, just the basics,” he said.

“I’ve grown up playing rugby league my whole life. This is my first time getting out of my shell.”

Aukafolau has followed the progress of fellow Australians like Valentine Holmes and Jordan Mailata, who have made the transition from rugby league to a successful career in the NFL.

Mailata, who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles, has also become somewhat of a mentor to Faalele ahead of his rookie season.

“He’s just been a great resource and [is] just letting me know things about the league and help me feel more comfortable,” Faalele said.

“He’s just a great guy. [He] gave me his number the first time I met him so it’s great having an Aussie ally in the NFL.”