Eagles Jordan Mailata helping pave way for international players

by Ricardo Gutierrez - The AFC South was allocated players this season from the IPP, which has helped international players.

Eagles LT Jordan Mailata helping pave way for international players -- especially in the AFC South play Why the Eagles shouldn't overlook the Texans (1:05) Despite predicting them to win, Marcus Spears believes the Eagles shouldn't overlook the Texans on Thursday night. (1:05) 6:00 AM ET DJ Bien-AimeESPN HOUSTON – Jordan Mailata didn't grow up playing football. So one may wonder how the Australian has been an inspiration for others around the world to make it to the NFL. Mailata was a rugby player who was noticed by the the NFL International Pathway Player Program, and he was able to take the opportunity and cash in -- thus becoming the poster child for the program after the Philadelphia Eagles left tackle signed a four-year, $64 million contract extension worth up to $80 million, which included $40.85 million guaranteed in 2021. Mailata's story gives international players hope that one day they could become the next international success story. But Mailata didn’t appear in the NFL by accident. Yes, Mailata's hard-to-miss, 6-foot-8 stature aided his path to the NFL. But the Pathway program discovered the former Australian Rugby player in 2018. Since 2017, the Pathway program has created an avenue for international players to get a shot to play in the NFL. There have been 29 players from the program to make the NFL, whether on an active roster or practice squad. And when the Eagles face the Houston Texans on Thursday at NRG Stadium for their Week 9 matchup (8:15 p.m. ET, Amazon Prime ), the program’s biggest success story, Mailata will be on display protecting quarterback Jalen Hurts ’ blindside. Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Jordan Mailata has been the biggest success story to come out of the NFL International Pathway Player Program. Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire Mailata’s contract extension signified what possibilities could be for international players: Come to the NFL through the program and become an impact player. After a 12-week crash course in the program, Mailata was drafted in the seventh round (No. 233 overall) by the Philadelphia Eagles , the only player to be drafted directly from the program. “I will forever be grateful to the IPP,” Mailata said. "Whatever I can do after my time is done, if I can go back and work with them, work for them, I would love that. I would love to keep looking for international talent. I know there’s a hell of a lot of people down under that can play this game, but they need to be educated and they need to be taught.” Mailata is a main motivator for other players from the Pathway program to make an active roster. Texans defensive end Adedayo Odeleye , who was a part of the program’s 2022 class, sees Mailata as what could be for his own career. “Jordan is a great guy and is a big inspiration for not just me and for everyone on the program,” Odeleye told ESPN. “When I was in the program, the first time he came over, gave us a lot of knowledge about playing the league, how to act and how to carry yourself. Just to see him being rewarded with the contract and being one of the top left tackles in the league as someone who never played football before. That just really shows everyone in the program that the sky's the limit. I think it kind of captures exactly what the program is meant to be.” The other players selected for the program were Indianapolis Colts defensive back Marcel Dabo (Germany), Tennessee Titans tight end Thomas Odukoya (Netherlands) and Jacksonville Jaguars defensive back Ayo Oyelola (United Kingdom). Since 2017, the NFL selects a division to receive players from the program. So each team receives one player after the draft, and this year was the AFC South’s turn. There are usually 10 to 15 players per year in the program. And even though it hasn’t happened often, any team can draft a player from the program or sign them to an undrafted free-agent deal. Mailata was the first player drafted from the program, but there was another international player who made NFL history. Cincinnati Bengals tight end Moritz Bohringer, from Germany, was the first European player drafted, when he was taken by the Minnesota Vikings in the sixth round of the 2016 draft. But Bohringer’s tenure with the Vikings was short-lived as he was released by them in 2017. His NFL career could have been over, but the Pathway program provided him another opportunity to get back into the league when he was allocated to the Bengals in 2018 after joining the program. One of the masterminds behind which players from the program get selected is Will Bryce, the head of football development for the NFL’s International Player Pathway program. “We wait for the draft to finish, and then we let the teams deal with their [undrafted] free agency stuff. And then on the Sunday, the day after the draft, we then allocate the international players to their clubs,” Bryce told ESPN. “What happens, we [waited] until the draft finishes and then we communicated to the Texans [general manager] Nick Caserio. I'll communicate with them. ‘Hey, congratulations, you've been allocated Adedayo.’ Give him all of his information. Obviously we've been communicating with them the prior couple of months leading up to that point.” So far, the only divisions that haven’t received allocation are the NFC North and AFC West. And the remaining players who aren’t chosen will be told what they must work on to potentially be selected the following season. That’s what happened with Odeleye in 2021. Defensive end Adedayo Odeleye was allocated to the Houston Texans in this year's batch of IPP players. Provided by the Houston Texans Odeleye was born in Nigeria, but his parents moved to London when he was 9. He didn’t play football until he reached Loughborough University in London. Rob Warren, who was a captain for the Loughborough University football club team, approached the 6-5 defensive end outside of the university’s sports club recruitment fair and convinced him to join the team. Odeleye was just playing for fun at the time, as he was focused on being a biomechanical engineer, which led to a mechanical internship with Rolls Royce. But the Pathway program took notice and selected him in 2021. But he wasn’t allocated in 2021. So he worked on his ability by playing for the Berlin Thunder of the European League of Football and rejoined the program in 2022. Then on his second attempt, he landed with the Texans. Odeleye is forever grateful for the opportunity the Pathway program has provided. “Without the IPP, I wouldn't already be where I am,” Odeleye said. “Eternally grateful to IPP, they've taught me a lot about football. And hopefully the program just keeps on getting stronger.” Follow the NFL all season long Everything you need this week: • Full schedule » | Standings » • Depth charts for every team » • Transactions » | Injuries » • Football Power Index rankings » More NFL coverage » Besides Mailata, there are three other players from the program who have been active in the NFL. Washington Commanders defensive end Efe Obada , who was signed by the Carolina Panthers in 2017; Las Vegas Raiders fullback Jakob Johnson , who was signed in 2019 by the New England Patriots ; and Chicago Bears tight end Sammis Reyes , who signed with Commanders in 2021 and made his NFL debut against the New Orleans Saints in Week 5. The players in the program arrive after the draft and participate in offseason workouts like rookie minicamp, OTAs, mandatory minicamp and training camp. After preseason, if the international players do not make the active roster, teams are allowed to keep them on the practice squad as they continue developing. This can last up to three years, and those players don’t count against the team’s salary cap. “So the program itself, we will scout all over the world. The amateur American football leagues around the world, everywhere from England to Brazil to Australia to Mexico,” Bryce told ESPN. “We'll also look at other sports like basketball, track and field, rugby, those kinds of athletes, and we'll scout year-round, find the best athletes we can, and we'll bring them to an international combine.” Only international players who did not play football at a U.S. college are eligible for the program. The international combine takes place in October and hosts roughly 50 to 70 athletes. The location can vary as Australia, London, Germany and Mexico have all hosted. The most recent one was in London at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where the NFL now plays its London games. Based on the testing measures, they’ll select players and bring them to America for the crash course, which begins in January and ends in April, where they learn NFL fundamentals. “You're taking guys who have played the game at an amateur level. Some have maybe had a little college experience,” Bryce said. “Others are brand new to it and coming from another sport, and you’re trying to prepare them for the NFL.” The training starts around 7 a.m. and ends around 6 p.m. It consists of weight room training, learning the basics of football and studying football schematic in the classroom Monday through Saturday. At the end of the crash course, the players will perform at the NFL International Player Pathway Pro Day at a university or an NFL team facility in front of scouts. When the draft concludes, the Pathway program and teams from the chosen division discuss which players fit best. As the program continues to grow and offer international players more opportunities Dabo has one goal for the program. "I know almost all the players who are on rosters from [IPP],” Dabo said. “We have to stick together. The ultimate goal is to grow the sport internationally because everybody can have a piece of the cake. That’s my little mission. To make American football just football. Everybody should play.” If more international players start producing like Mailata, then the game will become more global and make Dabo’s wish come true.