Tom Hamilton, Senior WriterJan 16, 2024, 08:00 AM ET
- • Joined ESPN in 2011
• Covered two Olympics, a pair of Rugby World Cups and two British & Irish Lions tours
• Previously rugby editor, and became senior writer in 2018
One of rugby union’s brightest stars, Louis Rees-Zammit, has decided to leave the sport and pursue a career in the NFL, joining the league’s international player pathway, it was announced on Tuesday.
The announcement came just minutes before Wales announced their squad for the forthcoming Six Nations, one that Rees-Zammit would usually be a key part of. But moments before Warren Gatland announced his squad, Rees-Zammit announced on his Instagram account that he was stepping back from the sport to pursue his NFL dream.
Rees-Zammit, 22, is by far the biggest rugby star to try to crack NFL via the pathway, and he will journey to Florida at the end of the week to join the program.
“Gloucester Rugby has been a huge part of my life,” Rees-Zammit said on Instagram. “From the start at Hartpury College and my first professional rugby contract with Gloucester in 2020, to my Wales and Lions caps; the club has been central to my development as a player, and I’m so grateful for their support.
“I will always be very proud of my time at Kingsholm and want to particularly thank the incredible fans who make the club so special. Also, to my teammates, to [coach] George Skivington and [CEO] Alex Brown, thank you for giving me such special memories and for supporting this next stage of my career.
“I have had the incredible honour of playing rugby for my country which, as a proud Welshman, I’ve never taken for granted. However, I believe that this is the right time for me to realise another professional goal of playing American football in the US. Those opportunities don’t come around very often.”
Rees-Zammit, who played on the wing and at fullback, won 31 Test caps for Wales, scoring 14 tries, and in 2021 was part of the British & Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa, where he was the youngest to be selected for that tour since 1959. He was one of the most lethal wingers in the Gallagher Premiership with Gloucester, but with his contract up at the end of the season, he has finished his time there, with the club agreeing to release him early.
Several other rugby players have tried to break into the NFL. Christian Wade, Alex Gray and Christian Scotland-Williamson have all attempted it. The NFL’s international player pathway began in 2017, with success stories such as Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jordan Mailata (Australia) and Las Vegas Raiders fullback Jakob Johnson (Germany) carving out places on NFL rosters.
The news will come as a blow for Gloucester, but they have given Rees-Zammit their blessing to try to achieve his dream of playing in the NFL.
“We understand the size of the opportunity before Zam and his lifelong ambition to play in the NFL,” Gloucester CEO Brown said. “Whilst we are naturally sad to see him leave, ultimately, we are not able to dissuade him from taking an opportunity of this magnitude with the NFL.
“We remain very proud of the role Gloucester Rugby has played in helping to develop him into the world class player he has become, and we wish him the very best in the US. He will always be welcome at Kingsholm.”