By Lizzie Pearl , 7:27pm Aug 5, 2018
He is a man mountain, at the foot of a steep and unchartered learning curve. Jordan Mailata is easy to spot in a crowd.
He stands head and shoulders (and the rest) above most, and at six-foot-eight inches, even has a few centimetres on the biggest guys in a team of elite American footballers.
But making the cut with the Philadelphia Eagles will be anything but easy.
Twenty-one-year-old Mailata was the last pick of the National Football League (NFL) draft earlier this year.
Signed up by the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, despite having never played a game of American football.
A moment he describes as “surreal”.
Mailata has just wrapped his first week of Eagles training camp in the middle of a long, hot and sweaty Philadelphia summer.
In his words “it’s tough”. His body is aching, but there’s a huge smile on his face.
“Now that I’m here, I’m saying it’s a whole new ball game, I’m thinking I’m starting from scratch again,” he tells 9NEWS with a laugh.
Mailata spends the morning on the field or in the gym. The afternoons are spent in the classroom, learning plays, and techniques which are almost foreign.
His size and athleticism has him in contention for a position in the Offensive Line. They’re the jobs for the biggest and strongest guys on the team.
The role of Offensive Tackle is to physically block the defenders who are trying to stop the advance of the offensive team towards a touchdown.
On paper Mailata is perfect, he’s big and can move his feet.
But he is a novice. Of the nearly 3000 players at training camps across the USA right now, this Australian is at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to experience.
He’s one in a 90 man squad, which after training camp and four pre-season games will be culled to the 53 man roster at the end of August.
Mailata finished a season with the South Sydney Rabbitohs under-20s last year. He had played Rugby League since he was a kid, but options at home in Australia were few.
After some introductions from his agent to contacts in the NFL, Mailata was accepted into the IMG Academy; a breeding ground for elite athletes in Florida.
At more than 200 centimetres tall and 150 kilograms, the born and bred Bankstown boy was hard to miss, and caught the eye of the Philly Eagles scouts.
Their interest cemented, when he ran a pacey 40 yard dash (36.58 metres) in 5.12 seconds.
In April this year, the Eagles traded up to get him.
Mailata is not only taking on a new code of football; he needs to know the playbook back to front. He has to get used to the padding and playing in a helmet.
He’s also learning the game on the job with the world’s best; players who’ve been in the sport for most of their lives.
An task described by a teammate as “drinking from a fire hose.”
“It’s not just one part,” Mailata says.
After a tough tackling session, he sits down with us, his body still sweating; his arms are aching.
“There are so many things that make the game what it is. The intricate details, it’s all about details you talk about remembering plays and then you have to remember the technique to execute the play… then you have to remember the defence as well!”
He knows size can only get you so far in this game; he has a lot to learn.
“It’s not about the size, it’s about the athleticism of the player, that’s what I learned about the sport too.
“It’s not about how you look; it’s about how you can move.”
Mailata explains his agility and speed is helping in the transition to NFL, but one of the biggest challenges is moving from “upright” game of rugby league, he played since he was a kid, into a “squat” position for the American game.
“There’s a lot of things that I still need to work on but some of those things from rugby I can bring over, but it’s a different ball game, running, squatting kicking backwards, squatting…. in rugby you play up here, but now I’m playing low.”
On whether the padding protects players from the hard hits?
“It’s even worse, you know that you’re protected it’s even worse.” He winces.
“I’m telling you it’s even worse, everyone makes a joke about the NFL ‘oh you’re wearing pads, oh look those big guys’… it’s even worse with pads on they just hit you non-stop, gut shots… everything!”
Mailata is not the only Australian in Eagles training camp, former Melbourne Demons AFL player, Cameron Johnston is chasing the job of punter.
On Mailata’s transition to camp, “He’s slotted in great,” Johnston, 26, says.
“That’s a big thing just coming straight over, I was at least able to play four years of college and know the rules.
“Having to learn everything from fresh… he’s doing a great job.”
While he learns the ropes, Mailata has a city behind him, willing him to succeed.
A Philly fan who’s been watching him train for hours, says, “I think the city has already embraced him.”
Another, marvelling at Mailata’s size tells us, “This is a town that’s like real open, likes guys like that, working class, you know?”
What you don’t see in the photographs or vision of Jordan on the field is his maturity, humility and generosity of spirit. He really is a gentle giant.
It’s not surprising, he’s winning hearts all over Philadelphia. A clip of him crooning in the locker room post training was splashed across US television, revealing the man can sing!
Philadelphia is a city which idolises its football team. This year, over-jubilant fans broke into rioting in the streets of Philadelphia when the Eagles won the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.
Mailata was watching the game on television from the academy in Florida.
He quips, with some degree of disbelief…now he is one of them.
But still he has a mountain to climb to get into that 53 man playing roster.
“I’m hopeful, but I’m not looking too far ahead” he says.
“I’m trying to focus on what I can improve on every day.”