The Herald Bulletin

December 8, 2013

Colts GameDay: From rugby, with love

By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

INDIANAPOLIS —

Daniel Adongo had just one question before his first workout for the Indianapolis Colts.

Did the team want him to run barefoot, or should he pull on his cleats?

The 24-year-old Kenyan represents one of the biggest gambles in NFL history. He flew to America for the first time to sign with the team in July, and to this day he's never played a live game of football.

That could change at 1 p.m. when the Colts kickoff against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Adongo, once a rising rugby prospect who quit a job at the sport's highest level to chase an incredible dream, was promoted to Indianapolis' 53-man roster earlier this week and could make his NFL debut today on special teams.

"I am excited," the 6-foot-5 prospective outside linebacker said at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. "As I said before, and I'll reiterate it, my excitement is being subdued by the fact I have a task, an obligation and a duty to perform what's being asked from me for the coaches and my teammates. That said, I have to perform those tasks and forget about my emotions. Team first."

Again, this is far from the average NFL rookie.

Adongo arrived in Indianapolis in July fresh from the Southern Kings of the Super 15 Rugby league, the highest professional level of the sport in the world. He hopped off a 17-hour flight in Atlanta and a made a connection to Indiana.

Shortly after that first in-person workout for the coaches and front office staff, it was off to Anderson University for training camp. There teammates reminded Adongo on a daily basis to bring his helmet out to the field for practice.

He'd never played American football, and what knowledge he possessed came from the video game series promoted by John Madden. He couldn't get into a proper stance, and he spent most practices watching from the sideline to soak in as much as possible.

Fast forward nearly five months, and Adongo is a blur racing down the field in a blue jersey at the start of special teams practice. When he signed with the Colts, he weighed about 235 pounds and his diet consisted primarily of fruits and nuts.

Now, Adongo is a chiseled 270 pounds and a more than imposing presence on the field.

"The guy couldn't even put his pants on six months ago, didn't know how to get into a stance, knew nothing about football and look at where he's at now," defensive end Cory Redding said. "He's giving the offensive line fits (in practice). He's strong, he's fast, very aggressive player, and I cannot wait to see him line up wherever they put him. Whoever's across from him is going to be in trouble. He's a heck of a player. You're all going to see it."

Adongo's most likely starting point is on special teams.

That's where he was earlier this week, blowing past a coach's block and barreling toward a simulated ballcarrier. Adongo suddenly decelerates, so as not to make contact, and then hustles to the back of the line.

In rugby, he hit players all the time. But he's never gotten the chance in football because he's only competed in drills against his teammates.

That could spell bad news for an unsuspecting Bengals special-teamer today.

"He hasn't been on the field under the lights when it counts, but he's played on a big field before," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said, referencing Adongo's rugby past. "He's ran around and tackled people before with no pads so I suspect, instinctively, he'll know how to do that. It might be even more physical and violent because he does have pads. Don't be shocked to see him knock some people around if he gets an opportunity."

The violent, rampaging animal on the field is at odds with the quiet, introspective giant in the locker room.

Adongo credits Redding and outside linebacker Robert Mathis among the many people who have helped him grow in the past few months. But he said everyone in the locker room played a part.

"It was pretty easy because he's a great guy," inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. "He fits in here well. But it wasn't really hard for us because he was coming up and asking any and every question. It didn't matter how big or how small, he's always asking questions trying to understand the game, trying to understand what goes on around here. Having a guy like that that just wants to be a sponge, it's always great to have around."

Nobody knows what the future holds for Adongo.

But there's no question he has the drive and determination to succeed. Eventually, he'll be worked in at outside linebacker.

And, one day, he might even replace one of his mentors.

"I see he has a lot of potential, and he can be a force in this league," Mathis said. "Just got to keep him on the right track. (Mentally) he is already there. So he's going to be fine."