Has Christian Wade's transition from rugby to the NFL worked out? For Wade, the answer is a resounding 'yes'.
“It has been a success to come across, learn the game, participate in practice at full-speed and to play in preseason."
The Buffalo Bills running back made an instant impact in preseason, scoring with his first touch which ignited hopes that Wade would be more of a hit than other cross-over athletes have been. Making the full 53-man roster was always extremely unlikely in year one, but are the former winger's prospects any brighter going into season two?
“I just want to keep improving. I’m going to give it the same energy as I did this year and see where that gets me."
Wade has formed a close relationship with the Bills' running back coach Kelly Skipper, who has given the former Wasp extra attention to ensure his fundamental skills are up to speed.
"He feels like that within our running back group we all have the ability to play good football but I’m still the weakest link in the room. That being said, he still has confidence that I’ve got the skills.
“I still have a lot to learn and I’m still making mistakes."
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) August 9, 2019
Watching other players around the league has also been part of the process. Wade name-checked the formidable Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffarey as one inspiration. Interestingly, the other name he mentioned was Tarik Cohen, a quality running back in his own right but far from a superstar of the NFL.
Cohen is 5ft 6in, 181 lbs and has been a success due to his electric footwork, and an ability to run routes and make catches. The Chicago Bear was the smallest running back in his draft class but his consistent performances since entering the league were rewarded by making the Pro Bowl in 2018. Wade is an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than Cohen. One concern over Wade's transition was his size for an NFL running back. But Cohen, along with the likes of Darren Sproles of the Philadelphia Eagles, has shown that size will not be a barrier.
Learning a completely new sport at 28-years-old however, was always going to be the challenge.
It is easy to forget that Wade's career in rugby spanned a decade, with electrifying performances throughout and lingering questions of what if?
What if Wade's defence was trusted by England? What if players were selected on the basis of what they can do, not what they can't?
But Wade seems more than happy with where his career is at - even if it feels like there is an "element of going back in time to being an academy player, where I would do what I’m doing now - service the first team, help them get ready for the week and not get a game at the end of it."
While Wade sees this year as a crucial starting point in the process, from the outside, sports teams see a gifted athlete on the sideline, not playing.
Toronto Wolfpack - who announced the signing of Sonny Bill Williams after their promotion to Super League - are rumoured to have been monitoring Wade's situation closely with the intention of luring him to a third sport in as many years.
The answer was once again resounding. “It’s all about football. Trying to make a team and be as successful as I can. I haven’t thought about or planned outside of football."
It looks like a rugby league side featuring Williams, Manu Tuilagi - who is also rumoured to be on the Wolfpack's wishlist - and Wade will not happen. A team that certainly would have drawn fresh eyes from those who prefer the 15-man code remains a fantasy for now.
The focus that Wade has on becoming a success in the NFL is remarkable. The Rugby World Cup passed him by as the time zone clash would have interfered with his sleep pattern and early morning workout routine. Although he could not help but notice when his old friend Siya Kolisi lifted the Webb Ellis Cup. The pair forged a friendship after an England U18 tour to South Africa in 2008 and have remained friends ever since. Wade was "proud" of Kolisi, which helped counter the disappointment he felt for his former teammates in the defeated England side.
But - despite Wade's absolute focus on becoming a better football player - there must be something he misses from his old sport?
“I don’t really have time to miss rugby because I’m so busy and engrossed in football that I don’t even have the opportunity to think about it."
Wade has well and truly settled at the Bills, after getting used to the biggest difference that playing in the NFL brings - "the number of meetings that they have".
The Buffalo Bills' team culture under Sean McDermott has been vital in helping the England one-cap wonder settle in upstate New York and Wade could not be more effusive about the franchise he has landed with.
The Bills look set to make the play-offs this season and Wade is content to support his team from the sidelines. For now.
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