Friday, May 24, 2013

Smith's big rugby-to-football hurdle? The helmet


Hayden Smith had a pile of obstacles to overcome in transitioning from rugby to American football when the New York Jets signed him last year.

One of them seemed simple enough -- but it wasn't.

“First of all it took me forever to actually figure out how to do the helmet up," the tight end project told's Eric Allen. "I remember running around on the practice field and having to have the coaches actually do the straps up in-between, so it was a bit of a nightmare for the first few days.

"I got comfortable with that and then to put the pads on again that was something else to get used to. The big part about it is actually having a helmet on completely changes the dynamic of the game.”

The Jets hope the former Australian rugby star can make big strides in his second season now that he has the equipment down, as he's part of a thin returning tight end corps comprised of Smith, Jeff Cumberland and Conrad Rueland.

Smith, who stands at 6-6, 255 pounds, caught his first pass Week 16 last year and saw the field in five games. Now that he has a better handle on the sport, he should be able to get involved earlier in 2013. He's learning his second system in as many years, which is probably a good way to speed up his development, albeit inadvertently.

“The whole process of learning it is a lot easier the second time around,” he said.

Smith came to the United States on a scholarship to play basketball but finished his collegiate career playing rugby. He excelled rapidly at his new sport and earned a spot on a professional club in Europe before finding himself on the USA World Cup team in 2011.

Follow Nick @NickStDenis
Follow AFC East Daily @AFCEastDaily