While the headlines Australian rugby superstar Jarryd Hayne generated last month by announcing a crossover to the NFL have simmered down, the training for his new life in the U.S. has heated up. How efficiently the 26-year-old can train his body to handle the demands of American football in the coming months will to a large part determine his future success.
In whichever city he ultimately lands, that transition won’t easy. [UPDATE – Hayne signed with the San Francisco 49ers in early March, 2015 after running a 4.53 40 yard dash in December]
Take it from the British rugby player Hayden Smith, who attempted a similar transition. “American Football is about short bursts of speed and power. The guys are bigger but then they don’t have to have the endurance that rugby players do,” he told The Telegraph in December, 2012 after a season in the NFL. “So, having come back, one of the things I need to work on is getting my conditioning back to where it needs to be to play rugby again. You spend more time in the gym and then sprint training and body control. It is key to be able to change direction quickly without breaking stride.”
While both sports at their highest levels require unusually high combinations of speed, agility and strength, American football is driven much more by structured set pieces while rugby tends to be a more free-flowing game. There, positions – and body shapes – have become more specialized. In rugby, meanwhile, body sizes across all positions tend to be more uniform.
It’s been rumored up to six NFL teams have been interested in trying Hayne out, including the Detroit Lions. Detroit running back Reggie Bush firsthand saw Hayne’s rugby ability this summer on a visit to Australia and said he felt Hayne’s extraordinary vision, quickness and powerful frame would help him excel in the NFL were he to choose that path.
After Hayne announced he was indeed going down that path on October 15, he said he has no doubt about the difficulties the change entails. “We’ll take it week by week and see where I’m at and whether I’m in that condition to progress for a trial or not,” he told The Guardian. “If we go down that avenue, then so be it. But the overall plan is for 12 months and to do as much training as I can and to prepare and to learn all the routes, learn all the schemes … I just want to get the basics down pat.”
Hayne said he needed to shed 10 kilograms, improve core strength through a rigorous gym program and markedly raise his sprint speed. The challenge is huge, as at the 2014 NFL Draft Combine 20 wide receivers were clocked at less than 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash. In the strength department, 12 participants lifted 102kg (bench press) more than 16 times in a row, with 23 reps the highest.
So how do Hayne’s metrics stack up?
First off, rugby prospects’ speed aren’t measured using the NFL’s standard 40-yard dash. They instead run 100 meter dashes. Hayne has claimed a time of 11.20 seconds, making him Australia’s third-fastest rugby player, according to The Telegraph.
That time does not, however, convert to elite NFL speed. The following graph shows 100 meter times of a few NFL running backs and kick returners who have been measured at that length (These are the positions for which Hayne is seen as a most likely fit).
Notable 100m Dash Times of NFL Players
Player Position 100m Dash Time
Jamaal Charles RB 10.18
Trindon Holliday KR 9.98
Devin Hester KR/WR 10.42
Reggie Bush RB 10.42 (High School)
Pre-season workouts: How NFL stars prepare for action
As if simply looking at NFL stars’ bodies wasn’t enough, the above times are clear indicators NFL players are world-class athletes. To maximize their performance, though, they must follow pre-season drills and exercises specifically tailored to their individual body shape, physiology and fitness goals.
Here are some examples of speed, coordination and strength drills:
• 40 Yard Dash – tests explosive speed in the simplest and most effective
• 3 Cone Drill – three cones are laid out in an L shape. Athletes run five yards to
the first, then return, run around the second cone, then weave around the third.
They finish by changing direction and returning back around the second cone.
• Shuttle Run (or 5-10-5) – athletes start in the three-point stance, explode out five
yards to the right to touch the line, go back 10 yards to the left to touch the line,
then pivot and turn five more yards to finish.
• Gauntlet Drill – athletes run straight down a yard line, repeatedly receiving
passes from alternating sides.
• Following Patterns – numbers and colors are drawn on a wall and athletes must
touch them as quickly as possible on command, in whatever pattern is called.
• Alternating Hands – athletes touch a wall as many times as possible in one
minute, using alternating hands.
• Bench Press – in a basic test of strength and endurance, athletes lift 225 pounds
for as many reps as possible.
• Vertical Jump – to test lower body explosion and power, an athlete’s reach is
measured by a standing jump from a flat-footed position.
• Broad Jump – in another test of lower body strength, athletes explode out as far
as possible from a balance stance and land without moving.
Whatever an individual’s goal, having the right clothing and equipment is essential, and players must ensure they know about protective gear such as compression clothing.
Jarryd Hayne appears to have the physical gifts to excel at football-specific drills and increase his sprint speed in preparation for the NFL. But his ability to quickly learn a new team sport (likely the world’s most complex from a tactical standpoint) will be just as critical and is harder to predict.