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Rees Lightning: Louis Rees-Zammit on NFL dreams after quitting rugby for US

Welsh rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit says making it in the NFL would be the “most proud moment of my life”.

The former Gloucester, Wales and British Lion winger sensationally quit rugby in January to switch to American Football.

The 23-year-old is completing a 10-week training and development camp as part of the International Player Pathway (IPP) in Bradenton, Florida.

The initiative is designed to attract players from outside the US to American Football.

On 20 March, Rees-Zammit will attend a Pro Day alongside 15 fellow attendees. It’s a showcase for their talents at which NFL team scouts will assess their suitability for a contract.

In an interview with Sky News, Rees-Zammit – nicknamed Rees Lightning because of his pace – talked of his ambition, his inspiration and of the NFL’s biggest fan, singer Taylor Swift.

On pursuing an NFL career

I’d regret this for the rest of my life if I never gave this a go. I fully believe that I can make this happen.

My dad has always been a role model to me and he played as a teenager – he loved the sport and brought me up to love the sport.

Louis Rees-Zammit
Image: Louis Rees-Zammit

He always supported Washington. We had a season ticket at Manchester United for the 2014 season, so I would have been 13 and, literally every journey up, I used to watch someone called DeSean Jackson – I used to watch all his videos on the three-hour journey up to Manchester, I’d watch all his videos, his documentaries and stuff like that.

I want to continue (my dad’s) legacy and create my own and inspire however many people I can back home to give this a go and believe in themselves.

On telling his Wales coach Warren Gatland and colleagues

My teammates are so supportive, I couldn’t thank them enough. They all messaged me straight away, good luck messages.

Louis Rees-Zammit
Image: Pic: PA

Gats (Warren Gatland) was so great with me. He only found out five minutes before the announcement, so it was tough for him and it was tough for me, because it was definitely the toughest decision I’ve ever made in my life.

I gave him a ring and he was like: go out there, smash it.

He asked ‘if it doesn’t work out, what happens?’ For sure, I’d be going back to rugby. So, he left it like that and I’m so appreciative of that and I can’t thank the boys enough for the support they’ve given me.

On the challenges of switching to NFL

The transferable skills, in terms of ball in hand, playing running back… is going to be a lot easier for me.

Obviously, the helmet and pads are completely different. The first few days were difficult, in the sense that you’ve got to use your peripherals (vision) a lot, but we’ve been doing it for seven weeks and it’s one of those things where you just get used to it.

It’s more route running, being able to accelerate and stop on a dime.

You’re trying to run a route and then, all of a sudden, you’ve got to turn around and try and catch a ball, with a helmet on, but you just get used to it.

We do hundreds and hundreds of repetitions so, after a few, you get a feel for where you are.

Mentally, you have to be so switched on. It’s such a cut-throat business that the margin for error is so small, you can’t forget anything.

Louis Rees-Zammit believes he can use skills form rugby to help him in the NFL. Pic: AP
Image: Rees-Zammit believes he can use skills from rugby to help him in the NFL. Pic: AP

A lot of it is mental and being able to transfer the stuff you learn in the classroom to the field.

In rugby, there are probably, like, 20 plays. In the NFL, you’ve got to try and learn 80-100 a game.

On Pro Day, the showcase for NFL scouts

It really excites me to be able to show people what I can do in this sport. I’ve worked incredibly hard over the past seven, eight weeks to get a feel for the game, not just on the field but off the field as well.

I want to show these scouts what we’ve all learned and I’m just so excited to get to that day and perform.

I fully believe that I can make this work. If I had any doubt in my head that I couldn’t do this then I wouldn’t be here.

On Taylor Swift, the musician and celebrity NFL fan

I think it’s great for the sport. She’s attracting people to love the sport and it’s great. I like Taylor Swift as a singer, as well.

There are a lot of people that have mixed reviews or mixed opinions, but I think it’s doing really good for the sport and it’s attracting a lot.

Taylor Swift embraces Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce after the NFL Super Bowl 58 football game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024, in Las Vegas. The Chiefs won 25-22 against the 49ers. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Image: Taylor Swift embraces Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce after the NFL Super Bowl. Pic: AP

On the Welsh team he left behind

It’s a new World Cup cycle in there, so we’ve got a lot of youngsters, which is great. We’ve had very good periods of play, it’s just putting an 80-minute performance together is the issue at the minute.

I have no doubt that the more games you play, the chemistry will get better, the boys will know how each other play, how each other run.

It’s difficult to just throw a load of players in there and just say “get better”.

What would success look like?

It’s not about money, it’s not about location, it’s about having a plan.

I don’t want to look too far ahead. I have no preferences on teams, I just want to be at a club that supports me and I will do everything for them.

For my dad to be able to say that his son’s in the NFL would be the most proud moment of my life – not just my dad, my brother and mum are so supportive of me and I could never do this without them.

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We’re so close, we do everything together, I mean, they’re going to come out and live with me.

They’ve supported me since I started sport at six, I think they probably missed about eight games in my whole life and that was purely because of lockdown.

They’ve travelled the world with me and I can’t do enough to give back to them.

If he returns to rugby

I started at Gloucester and I’d want to finish at Gloucester. Ultimately, if they didn’t give me the opportunity to play professional rugby then I wouldn’t be here today.

So I absolutely love Gloucester, I love the club, I love the supporters, I love everyone there. So, Gloucester would be my preference.

Sky News Source