South African schoolboy rugby players & American Football

Recently a schoolboy rugby player from the Free State was mentioned in connection with a National Football League (NFL) opportunity. I received an email from a knowledgeable person who had done quite a bit of research on the topic. Here are excerpt from his email:

A player needs to be 3 years out of high school to be eligible for the NFL.

However the NFL International Pathway Program exists. This program is made for international prospects where they will be allowed to be on a NFL team to just learn the game without the possibility of being cut from the team. They will earn $160 000 for 16 weeks of being on the practice squad and cannot be activated to the active roster. After one year they are allowed to sign to the active roster and the minimum salary for that is $495 000 a year.

It is possible to get a profesional rugby player straight to the NFL but the guy is going to have to be a freak of nature.

The best path is via College Football at a D1 University in the USA because that will immediately give a player a way better chance at getting drafted. Then you are talking about R15 mil – R25 mil a year easily if the player is drafted after he leaves College. That will be a lot more if the player is a high round draft pick and even if he does not get drafter, he will have a big chance to sign as Undrafted Free Agent with a team and earn a minimum of R7.2 mil a year.

The only negative of playing College Football is that a player cannot earn money while he plays at the College level. A scholarship to study for free (tuition/board/living expenses) is basically the pay to play (Fees to study at a top college in American can be very expensive). But as one can see, the money these players sign up for when they make the NFL makes up for that 3-4 years where they were not allowed to earn income. The average scholarship from D1 Universities can be anywhere from $35 000 – $75 000 depending on which university you go to. The better the university, the better the education and the better the value of the scholarships.

If the player cannot make the NFL then he still has an amazing chance to make the CFL (Canadian Football League). That is generally where all the players go that cannot make the NFL out of College. In the CFL you are talking about a minimum salary of R1mil – R1.5 mil a year which is not bad. If the player is not good enough to make the CFL, then he can try and get into the XFL, which is a new league developed by Vince McMahon of WWE fame. This league was developed for players that could not make the NFL at their first try. The going pay in the XFL is about a minimum of R1 mil – R1.5 mil a year.

Let’s break it down:

Best Case Scenario:

A player gets drafted in the 3rd – 7th round of the national draft will have to be very good. He gets a salary of R15 mil – R25 mil a year (4 year contracts).

If he gets drafted in the 1st – 2nd round is unbelievably good and he will earn more than double the figure above.

For top schoolboy rugby players who have the dimensions and athleticism the can aim for the goal above because chances are far better for them to get offers from all the Top 40 universities in the US, which is an important stepping stop to success.

The source’s player evaluation of two top u18 Free State schoolboy rugby players leads to the conclusion that they have a 20-30% chance of getting drafted in the first 2 rounds.

There is a  60 – 70 % chance of players of their calibre being drafted in the 3rd – 7th rounds.

Okay Case Scenario:

The player does not get drafted and must sign as a Undrafted Free Agent. He signs for R7.2 mil a year (3 year contract).

If he gets developed into a average player then he can easily sign for R20mil – R40 mil a year, and he could exceed this value if he is good.

This will amount to a 30-40% chance for school rugby players in South Africa belonging to the athleticism tier below that of the two Free State boys, provided they can get signed by a Top 20 University.

Worst Case Scenario:

The rugby player does not make the NFL at all.

He can now be signed to a practice squad. Here the minimum salary is R145 000 a week for 16 weeks (It can be more depending on the team)

If the player does not make it to a practice squad, he has the CFL or XFL options mentioned above.

NFL Average Salaries per position in 2018




  1. @kam48: Yes I am aware of both but thought it was unfair to publish their names.

    The boys are on or around 1.90m tall, pound for pound very strong, mobile as well and have adequate ball skills.

    American Football is one of the most highly specialised team sport though so they do cater for different needs from goal kickers like Naas Botha, to punters, to kick receivers to 1.75m tall explosive wide receivers to 150kg+ linesmen to tightends who are about 1.90+ and often receive passes plus many more positions that rugby boys can be moulded to fit.

  2. Unless your source is Bill Belichick or one of the GM’s of one of the teams I believe the assessment of the boys being first or second round draft picks to be incredibly unrealistic. Teams will take a chance on unreal physical specimens in the last round or bring them in as undrafted free agents – not waste high draft picks on unproven players.

  3. Die youtube channel rugga bugga is waar dit genoem word ,ek weet ook wie die spelers is maar soos genoem is is dit nie my besigheid nie

  4. @Rainier: die eerste paar draft picks is gereserveer vir die top top top colleg spelers…om dit in sa schoolboy terme te sit sou wees dat Grens vir Evan Roos kon pick….want gewoonlik is dit die laer spanne wat die eerste pick kry

  5. @Smallies: Slim spanne soos die Patriots maak ook baie gebruik van die middel rondtes om waarde te vind. Spelers soos Edelman, White en Gronk en om nie eers te praat van Brady nie.

  6. @Rainier: Yeah considering some of the best senior pros in the NFL didn’t even get picked in the 1st or 2nd round, I tend to agree with you. The compo and spinoffs for Colleges is so big that I’m sure they have done their research and have their reasons for not backing school rugby players particularly those of Polynesian descent who tend to have those freakish like qualities.

  7. @beet: I failed to understand quite how technical gridiron was until I read Bill Walsh’s book.

    Offence and defence schemes makes rugby look like a simpleton’s game and picking it up at a fairly advanced stage after school will be incredibly difficult.

  8. @Rainier: I can relate to that. Many years back when DSTV still offered ESPN, there was a really good show on a Sunday called NFL Matchup. One of the presenters Merril Hoge would watch between 60 and 80 hours of footage to prepare for the weekly show which showed some very technical aspects of the various teams playbooks and execution.

    I also know their football has a thing called the wonderlic test because there is just so much for a player to remember, so apart from physical power they require brain power. A lot of roles on the field are so specific though that it does offer a new to the sport player the chance to master his tasks without knowing a single thing about the rest of how the game is played. Obviously different scenario for the head coach and his senior coaching staff.

  9. @4×4: Greg Joseph is the kicker for the Browns. His dad went to Greenside HIgh – my Alma Mater. His family emigrated to Florida when he was a kid – about 10. He played soccer in the US, but his high school football coach noticed his big boot so asked him to kick for the school football team where he did well, so continued playing at college. He attended a smaller Div 1 college called Florida Atlantic, where he did well too, so was invited to try out for the Miami Dolphins last year. He just missed out on making the Dolphin’s roster, but was invited to a tryout at the Browns after they fired their kicker after two games. He won the job at the Browns and did OK. He’ll be under pressure this spring to keep his place.

    He is one of a handful of Jewish players and one of two South Africans playing in the NFL.

  10. @Vleis: A few years ago Daniel Adongo, a Kenyan who was once at the Sharks Academy and played a bit of senior rugby in SA joined the Indianapolis Colts and made a successful conversion. Got onto the full-time payroll. His off the field misconduct however resulted in him getting cut before he could really establish himself.

  11. Kicker is the only position with skills that vaguely translate between rugby and American football.

  12. @beet: Very different. NFL ball is about the size of a Nr 4 rugby ball and is much more elongated.

  13. A few years back, Gary Anderson, a Durban schooled placekicker played 23 seasons in the NFL mostly for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was a very good football player as a youngster. He was named in the all decade NFL teams of the 80’s and 90’s and the Steelers retired his jersey. Only two other players have had longer NFL careers. He went the College route at Syracuse after his parents immigrated to the US after he finished school and was drafted to the NFL in ’82.

  14. A few observations on the NFL and football in the US generally in the context of aspirant young South African rugby players hoping to crack it over there. Having the physical attributes to play a specialist position is only a fraction of what is required in exactly the same way that not every 2m 110kg plus high school boy has what it takes to be the next Bakkies, Victor or Eben.

    I’m no expert but have spent a lot of time in the US over the years and have some appreciation of the game and have been lucky enough to watch it played at High School, College and NFL level. Anyone who has seen a big College game at, say, UT in Austin or in Florida will appreciate, the sheer scale of the supporter interest, facilities like 100 000 seater stadia, and the financial resources that are available at that level. They will also have gained some appreciation for the talent pool of big, skilled and committed aspirant players who have dreamed of playing in the NFL since they were knee high. I have family and friends who have studied at US universities and lived there for decades. Many of them were reasonable rugby players and have become involved in rugby in the US as players and in some instances in coaching where much of their talent comes from high school football players who did not have the attributes to succeed even at College level in football.

    My first thought is that there is no shortage of big, athletic, and football skilled young men coming through their own High School systems so the challenge to make an impression at College level is enormous – probably similar in terms of catch up to a 18 year old with the physical dimensions, strength or pace to arrive in SA with no rugby background and hope to be picked for a Craven Week side and then to be offered a contract.

    I’m not saying that it is impossible, as the young man from Affies playing there has shown, but it is an extremely tall order.

  15. @beet: Adonga definitely had a chance at a career in the NFL having made the 53 man playing roster at the Colts which is no mean feat. I think he was initially signed to the practice squad and then the playing group the following year but had an injury setback before “suiting up” in his final season before the personal issue you refer to caused him to be cut.

  16. @beet: That’s a pity – he’s effectively thrown away a winning lottery ticket!

    @meadows: Gary Anderson was a great NFL kicker – I seem to remember that he had a perfect season at some point back when my NFL team was winning.

    @meadows: I went to watch the College team that I support (‘Bama) a few years back. They were playing away against Ole Miss, which had a relatively ‘small’ stadium of only 65k – in fact, the new record was set (66,176) on the day that I attended. Anyway, I was in DC at the time and asked my travel agent to book me on a flight to Oxford Mississippi, which is where Ole Miss is located. He said that the nearest airport was Memphis, Tennessee!! The town of Oxford has a population of only 20k and yet the stadium of 65k is mostly full for all home games despite the fact that you have to fly into a different state and take a two hour drive to watch the game!

  17. By Outeniqua is daar ‘n stut Henry Tromp jnr. Oor die afgelope vier jaar moes ek kyk hoe hy hard werk om sy liggaam in ‘n “rugby” vorm te hou. Hy is nou in graad 11 , 130kg , 196cm. Dis nog steeds te groot vir ‘n stut en te swaar vir ‘n slot. Ek dink hy sal goed kan doen in american football. Blocker vir die quaterback.

  18. @Vleis: notre dame stadium has been sold out in advance for 15 to 20 years if I’m correct and they have been sold out for something like the past 40 years also not such a big college football venue 86 000 plus minus

  19. @Vleis: A while back in the 90’s I was taken to watch the UT Longhorns play at their stadium in Austin. I remember being absolutely blown away at the stadium and crowd which I’m told is one of the biggest in football in the US and bigger than many of the NFL grounds. I’m not sure of the capacity but it was absolutely jam packed.

  20. @Smallies: @Vleis: I just checked College football stadiums capacities.
    In 2018 the top 25 were all over 75000.
    The 8 biggest including UT in Austin and Alabama all have 100 000+ capacities.
    the next 3 are 90 000+
    Notre Dame is at number 17 with a “mere” 80 795!

  21. @Smallies: @meadows: A fantastic movie about Notre Dame football is “Rudy”, which is a true story. Indeed, I’d recommend that any sport mad person watch this film.

    The top college football programs each produce an annual profit of over $100m (ZAR1.44bn) and most of the top 20 teams each produce an annual profit in excess of $50m (ZAR720m). The most profitable college football program, at present, is Texas A&M followed by the Texas Longhorns and then Alabama. They sure do love their football down in the South – especially Texas.

  22. @Vleis: i think i watched Rudi about 7 times ,that movie is the root of my interest in the fighting irish….if you realy want to read a very interesting story google toutch down Jesus….you will enjoy it

  23. @Smallies: America is master sales men,and I see there’s more than willing buyers here.For example,they sell you that Sydney Pollack is an artist.If you willing to buy that,they sell you that he was beter than Rembrandt and van Gogh.They simly justify it with the fact that one of his paintings sold for nearly a bil $, bought by an…wait for it… American.

    Tom Brady is considered the best player ever,at age 41 his still winning Superbowls.Just google current players over 35 and there a lot.Now in rugby, because of the physical demands,it’s the end of the road come early 30’s.

    I don’t know nearly enough about the game,or maybe I’m just stupid but from what I’ve seen, except for the fact that I find it utterly borring,it doesn’t seem so complicated to me.Like in soccer,I like to see the touch downs,but the stop start inbetween play not for me.

    I bet a lot of top rugby players would have been stars in the NFL,given the chance, growing up with the game, passion etc.Even in Brady’s prime,the best who ever played the game,it’s hard for me to see which position in rugby would have fit him…

  24. @meadows: My daughter is doing an internship in US via Ohio State Univ. She spend some time on campus there when she went over in Jan this year.. She sent me pics of their football stadium.. Home of the Buckeyes.. Capacity is 102 000 since 2018..but record attendance was 110k in 2016 against Michegan State…

  25. @Smallies: Ander interresante stat, as universiteit van Nebraska n tuis game speel is die stadium self die 3de grootse dorp in die staat.

  26. @Vleis: Dit is ongelooflik!!
    Daar is n great video op You tube oor Virginia Tech as hulle op die veld kom met Metallica se liedjie Sandman!!

  27. I remember thinking when rugby became a professional sport that the game could do worse than look at the football structure in the US as a model for managing the transition from schoolboy sport to the pro game.

    There were obviously differences especially as to how school sport is structured and played but notwithstanding that I thought that we missed a trick in not prescribing a “college” phase for the 3-4 years from 18 to 21 before a player could embark on a senior pro career.

    The U19-21 recruitment and player management has IMO been a shambles and in many instances detrimental to player development personally and on the rugby field and has also had many negative effects on the game in general in this country. With the high attrition rates – probably similar to football – the majority of junior contracted players are spat out of the system after 3-4 years but with the key problem of being without any qualifications. There are exceptions of course.

    Notwithstanding the differences High school football in the US is fiercely competitive, and generally extremely well organized and coached. It is still the most popular high school sport and watched by large crowds – there are at least 8 high schools in Texas with 20 000 seater stadiums. In a country of over 300million people just over 1 million play High school or “varsity” football.

    In most states the regular season is limited to 9 games and they also have strict rules about training out of season.

    Being the US they produce all the stats and what is interesting from there in the context of our fall out rates is that only 73 557 or 7% of that number progress to playing College football and only 2,8% at an NCAA Div 1 College which is where you need to be to hope to be drafted 3-4 years later to the NFL which is where the focus really sharpens with only 256 or 1,6% of players being drafted to the NFL sides annually.

    Almost every successful NFL player has had to fight his way through the College system, completing a degree in the process, and eventually becoming a successful draft pick. Tom Brady for example arrived at Michegan in 1995 as a High school star but 7th on their “depth’ chart of quarterbacks. He was a backup for two years, competed for a starting spot in his third and only started every game in his final two years in 98 and 99. He was picked at #199 in the 6th round of the 200 draft by the Patriots.

  28. @Murrayfield: Lekker video. I’ll be driving past that stadium in September – unfortunately, they don’t have a game the weekend I will be nearby.

    @Smallies: They are two different Universities. Michigan State is a state university, while Michigan is private. The former has a 65k seater stadium, while the latter has a 107k seater stadium. Arguably, the 2nd biggest college football derby game is called “The Game” and it’s between Michigan and Ohio State, not between Michigan and Michigan State. :?: :-?

    The biggest derby is between Bama and Auburn and is calld the “Iron Bowl”.

  29. @Grizzly: To be fair, it doesn’t seem complicated because you don’t understand it. Let’s take another sport – cricket. Anyone not familiar with cricket will think it is a very simple game and extremely boring – especially test cricket. However, it’s only when you really understand the finer details of cricket that you’ll enjoy a test match much more than a T20 or ODI. The skill, concentration and BMT required is immense and the ebbs and flows can be both gentle and savagely intense.

  30. The University of Michigan (the Wolverines) recently had a training session at UCT with 100 players and 50 support staff some Ikey and UWC players. It was an SA Rugby initiative and some Boks/Boks sevens players and coaches were there as well to exchange ideas. The idea was to exchange coaching ideas/drills etc. There is a report on the UCT website . I was fortunate to be there. The Head Coach of Michigan told us they were the most succesfull team in the history of college football.

  31. @Toffee: The head coach of Michigan is Jim Harbaugh, who previously coached the NFL team that I support (49’ers). An interesting fact is that he took the 49’ers to the Superbowl about seven years ago, but lost to Baltimore, who were coached by his brother – John. It was the first time that two brothers faced each other, as head coaches, in a Superbowl.

    Also, one of the Baltimore players was a chap called Mike Oher. You may remember a movie called “The blind side”, which was about Mike Oher and the Tuohy family who adopted him when he was in high school. The movie ended with Mike getting a football scholarship to attend Ole Miss…but clearly things got a lot better for Mike thereafter!

  32. @Vleis: I believe that he – Jim Harbaugh – is also the highest paid coach in College football at $9m pa. Interesting that there is enough money in College football for a coach of this calibre who had coached the 49’ers pretty successfully in the NFL.

  33. @Toffee: They are in terms of winning percentages but if you judge it on the most NCAA national championships won then Yale are still out in front with 18 – unfortunately the last one was won in 1927 :-D followed by Princeton (last win in 1922) and Alabama both on 15. Alabama won five times in 9 years between 2009 and 2017. Michigan have won 9 (one more than Harvard on 8) with the last in 1997 and their first in 1901.

    Michigan, Alabama USC and Notre Dame have all been at the top tier since the early part of the last century

  34. @meadows: The top college coaches get paid a very similar amount to the top NFL coaches – see article below:

    The Ivy League Universities are now so hopeless at football that they play in their own league. One of the star football players of Permain High (Brian Chavez, who featured prominently in “Friday Night Lights”) attended Harvard, but quit football and took up rugby as he said that the intensity and passion of football at Harvard was way below what he was used to at Permian High school in Texas. 8-O

  35. @Vleis: The decline and then disappearance of the Ivy league seems to coincide with the establishment of a full blown professional NFL in 1922 and the emergence of the big southern and deep south Colleges as football powerhouses. Alabama, Georgia tech, Auburn the Texan colleges and USC all came to the fore around that time

  36. @beet: @meadows: @Vleis: Thanks for this very interesting topic and discussion gents. Really enjoying this thread and the scale of things over there just seems absolutely mind boggling. :-D

  37. @Quagga: No probs. Maybe my son wishes that my American mom did not emigrate to SA, as he’d probably rather be playing football in front of 100,000 fans in Ohio State Uni, than playing rugby in front of a few hundred spectators for Wits Uni! :lol: :lol: That said, both sports develop great bonds and brotherhood.

  38. @Vleis: A lesson that I believe our youngsters with professional rugby aspirations can take from stories like that of Tom Brady, arguably the most successful footballer ever, is that being a high school star and then eventually a College star after five years of hard work, starting way beck in the pecking order at Michigan, is still no guarantee of even being drafted (#199) let alone becoming a success in the NFL. I have nephews at high school on the west coast, who were born and have grown up over there, and while they are passionate about their football they have their sights firmly set on acceptance to an ivy league school.

    One of the most difficult adjustments I noticed for boys coming straight out of playing in front of relatively big schoolboy crowds to the U19-21 Currie Cup is running out at odd times at huge empty stadiums save for a few family and girlfriends. At least Varsity Cup has decent crowds and gees but it is over in no time and if they are not involved at the franchises they go back to playing against open clubs.

  39. @meadows: Agreed…but like in Ireland, I’d do away with all provincial u19/20/21 competitions (which are largely not followed anyway) and have all the lighties focus on club rugby. A strong, vibrant club rugby set-up will be the lifeblood of SA rugby. The Unions also need to reduce the number of contracted players and send the rest to further boost a strong club set-up. A local club rugby coach told me that we have over a 1,000 fully contracted players in SA compared to 87 in Ireland! 8-O

    But most importantly, we need much, much, much better marketing of our rugby – e.g. historic duels including the drama of great successes/failures/etc, plus background stories about the players, etc. People need to feel invested in the team, players, etc. The Americans do this so well.

  40. @Vleis: I can’t emphasize how much I agree with your statement.Take it further and restrict the unions to 30 contracted players.Then up those salarys to be at least competitive to oversees players.Do away with Supersport Challenge and only keep Super and CC compos.

    Keep A and B devision in snr rugby with relegation between loosers A and winning B like in the old days.

    Then return to a club structure to be played Theusday evenings,with /21 before the senior matches,A division.All other club games,2nd,b,c etc to be played on Saterdays only.

    Speaking for PTA,this worked in the past for BB.Scouts can then atend this matches for next generation talent.Teams in the Carlton cup can then became semi pro with Union allocating bigger amounts to the clubs.With sponsors and maybe TV rights,the clubs can then earn additional income.They can then contract players in the 10-15k per month bracket.Contracts end otoumaticly when call up to the Union happens.

    National club champs wiht all the Varsities will return.Spectators will id with clubs and build loyalty base.

    If not the above then SARU must change its constitution to let Unions sell 100% of shares to individuals,not companies….like the NFL..the only way we can counter the ever sliding rand.

  41. @Grizzly: Agreed. I was pleasantly surprised at the relatively large spectator numbers at the club games that I watched in March this year in unfashionable areas like Pretoria North (Naka Bulle) and Pretoria West (Tuine-Grizzlies)….so there is definitely still life in the body.

    I also agree that privatising rugby will significantly increase the chances of it succeeding.

  42. @Vleis: Gee whiz but you travel… :lol: Tuine,yes I remember back in the day when playing them it was more about our boxing than rugby skills :mrgreen: :lol: .

    In that time there was Carlton,snr reserwes and another 25-27 div below that 8-O I don’t know these days but it’s not near that numbers.I remember club games on weekday nights pulling spectators by the wagon load, more than at Loftus some days.

    It won’t help for one Union to go back,SARU must take leadership and forche the same structure across all the unions.They must do something very soon or they will loose the plot all together,the supporters.

  43. @meadows: After finishing off at House I moved up to Jhb to work. Joined Germiston Simmer and clearly remember a game we had in Western Areas. It’s was bitterly cold when running onto the field and as you say 2 supporters. They were my buddies that drove me to the game as I didn’t have my license or a car. I played 2 seasons there and loved it. I think you need to have passion for the game then the adaption is easier.

  44. @Bush: As a good mate of mine, who had played for Tvl, said to one of my sons in his first year out of school when he was about to run out in a Lions jersey for the first time in an U19 CC warm up game on a freezing cold winters evening at the rock hard Bosman stadium in Brakpan “welcome to Transvaal rugby boytjie – I think you’re going to find it a bit different to the playing fields of Balgowan” :lol:

  45. @Smallies: It is but you would know better than most how icy cold it can be on a winters night :lol: Throw in a bit of spice on that occasion as they were playing a Valke side of amateur players with a point to prove against the “contracted pros” which goes back to the discussion above about the process in those critical development years between school and the senior professional ranks when so many potentially good players fall off the radar if they weren’t contracted by a big franchise.

    Even contracted players are subjected to the vagaries of often inept talent management systems at the franchises. A player like Faf de Klerk is a good example, but one of many I’m sure. He spent much of his time in the U19-21 system at the Lions on the bench and wasn’t offered a senior contract. At that stage (21) many players decide that it’s been fun but it’s time to get on with their lives outside of rugby and maybe play at their local open club for a few more years. Some, like he did, back themselves and go and play for one of the smaller unions such as the Pumas for pittance where his old Waterkloof coach Jimmy Stonehouse knew his potential and gave him game time. A year or two late the Lions need cover at scrumhalf and before you know it he is a Bok and the English press think he is the best 9 in the world. Vincent Koch went a similar route via the Pumas and I’ve no doubt there are many more but it just highlights how many others could have been lost to the system.

    You still got the odd player, like Dyanti, impressing enough at Varsity Cup to get picked up but VC is largely played by players in the contracted systems who are eligible.

  46. Ek soek eintlik n draad om die vraag te vra vir junior scouts/ agente vir skoolseuns, hoe benader julle die talent by cravenweek die jaar. Inaggenome die weglating van onder 19 unie strukture?

  47. @beet: Looks like there is another pathway for a rugby player to join the NFL. Tristan Blewett (Hilton and Sharks CW centre of 2014) has been invited to try out for the New Orleans Saints. That’s where he is at the moment…and apparently he’s impressing the people there. That said, I’ve read some negative mutterings by local fans who say that there must surely be enough football talent to look at before taking a punt on a rugby player that has no clue how the game works.

    He joined New Orleans Gold, which is a rugby team in the newly created Major League Rugby competition in the US. He did very well for them, so some random dude texted a Saints coach about him…and the rest is history.

    Check out his interview on the youtube link below:


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