Jordan Mailata beat Philadelphia Eagles fans ahead of Atlanta Falcons season opener at Mercedes Benz Stadium
He performed so well at summer camp that he edged out Andre Dillard, the Eagles’ 2019 first-round pick, to be named the starting left tackle, a position that puts all kinds of pressure due to his importance in preventing defenders in a rush to try to get their paw on the quarterback’s crown jewel.
A bit of background: Mailata was a seventh-round draft pick for the Eagles in 2018 and it was only then that a highlights brief sent to rugby union clubs was found between the hands of NFL officials looking for suitable players for its international program.
âI want to erase this rugby past. I want to be seen as a football player, not the boy from the Bankstown Bulls. “
“The left tackle is often the second-highest paid player on a team because it protects the QB’s blind side in most cases,” said ESPN’s Phil Murphy. âIt says a lot for Jordan to get this far, but it’s going to take time. People shouldn’t be making career decisions on a weekly basis. You cannot hide your starting left tackle. If he doesn’t aim, you’ll hear about it. The NFL is far from being a philanthropic organization. Teams don’t look for wellness stories. They are looking for the best person for the job.
The league’s highest-paid left tackle is Trent Williams of the San Francisco 49ers, who earns $ 31.4 million per season, making him the richest offensive lineman in history. . Mailata is currently in the final season of her four-year rookie contract, worth around $ 1.2 million in 2021, but a good start will trigger an upgrade worth millions more. . Tens of millions more.
Money is good, but the NFL means more to him than a salary. Speaking to Mailata from Philadelphia earlier this week, it becomes very clear, very quickly, that he has grown weary of references to his old sport. He doesn’t care if he’s a sideshow; he just doesn’t want his inexperience to be used as an excuse.
“I will never forget my life in the rugby league, but I want to be responsible and professional in the sport I am in now,” he insists. âI want people to hold me accountable because I’m not good enough at applying the technique, not giving me the benefit of the doubt because I’m a rugby player. It’s up to me to run my own affairs. That’s why I want to erase this rugby past. I want to be seen as a football player, not as the boy from the Bankstown Bulls. “
Philadelphia sports fans will only release him for so long. Sure, they like underdogs – even fictional ones like Rocky Balboa – but they’re notoriously fickle. Just ask Carson Wentz, starting quarterback Hurts replaces. Just ask Ben Simmons. Just ask Joe Biden. âPhiladelphia fans are the most knowledgeable and obnoxious fans in the world,â the US president said earlier this year. He and his wife, Jill, are Eagles fans.
Brandon Lee Gowton is the editor-in-chief of Bleeding Green Nation, the Eagles’ main fan site. Are Philly fans really this vicious?
“Very,” he laughs. âPeople care more here. The culture of the city is all about the sport. We know it all. We follow the smallest details of every transaction. The Eagles are the kings here in Philly. Turn on the radio, it’s all about the Eagles. Downtime in June, they’re talking about the Eagles. This is what matters most to the people here.
âBut they’ll give Jordan a long leash. He has a fun personality off the pitch, that helps. He was honest and responsible every time he spoke to the media. The bar is lower for him. People like to root it for him. It would take a lot for people to turn on him. They think it’s going to be the long term answer.
Which is intimidating in itself. He’s got big, padded pants to fill in.
“His selection is really important when you look at the historical context of what the Eagles have had on the left tackle,” Gowton continued. âThey had Tra Thomas in the 2000s, an All-Pro player. Then Jason Peters, a Hall of Famer [who was part of the Eagles team that won Super Bowl LII in 2018. The question then was, âWho replaces him? A legend?â The hope was Andre Dillard, but he hasnât been looking good.â
Murphy laughs, too, when asked about the fire that burns inside Philadelphia fans.
âThey are honest,â he says. âItâs a great town to be a hero. They love the Rocky story. But theyâre among the harshest critics. Anyone on that team who falls short will hear it from the hometown supporters. But Jordan can be someone they will rally behind.â
Mailata first came to understand the importance of left tackle because of Hollywood. He watched Remember the Titans, starring Denzel Washington, and then The Blind Side, starring Sandra Bullock, which tells the story of young offensive lineman Michael Oher, a hulking player from an impoverished background who, thanks to his adoptive parents, eventually played in the NFL.
âAs soon as that movie came out, guys at high school were calling me âBig Mikeâ,â Mailata recalls, shaking his head about the irony of it coming true.
Many people at the Eagles showed great patience, but none more than offensive lineman coach Jeff Stoutland, who taught him the importance of repetition and discipline, especially when it comes to learning a playbook that Mailata says âlooks like a hundred-sided Rubikâs Cubeâ so complex he nearly âfaintedâ when he saw it.
âHe [Stoutland] always talks about that Bruce Lee saying, âMailata continues. “I’m not afraid of the man who practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I’m afraid of the man who practiced a kick 10,000 times. Coach Stout is like a father to me.
âMy old man represents the world to me. I only realized this when I got older. The lessons he taught me, I understand them now.
“The way my own father raised me is the same way he teaches me to play football: it’s a difficult love but I know deep down that he insults me and insults me with all kinds of names, I know he loves me. I just have to find my way through the insults and figure out that’s what he’s trying to tell me. I’m grateful to have someone like Coach Stout in my life, without him I wouldn’t know anything.
Mailata’s real father, Tupai, and her mother, Pereseti, moved from Samoa to New Zealand and then to Bankstown, struggling to find enough money to raise five children.
“Mom worked full time, six days a week, 12 hours a day,” Mailata recalls with emotion in her voice. âDad was a handyman, had two jobsâ¦ We didn’t have much to grow. As a child, I never understood why my father was yelling at me, but it was a tough love. My old man represents the world to me. I only realized this when I got older. The lessons he taught me, I understand them now.
As Mailata realizes her NFL dream, other Australians in the Eagles’ locker room are hoping to follow. Arryn Siposs of St Kilda, who has made 28 AFL appearances, is their new starting bettor while former Adelaide plumber Matt Leo is a defensive end on the practice squad.
âEveryone always gives us a bunch of sticks,â Mailata says. âEveryone always says, ‘Hey, buddy! Or ‘Are you going to eat Vegemite?’ and they do their best Australian accent. They sound more British to be honest. We all have different backgroundsâ¦ Amazing to see three different stories on one team.
Mailata will not agree to discuss rugby league players who might follow in her footsteps. He is preoccupied with his own journey. But he has some advice for all Polynesian children who are wondering where their life could take them.
âDon’t be afraid to dip your toe in the water,â he suggests.
âDrown in it and learn to swim. All of Poly’s kids who plan to do it, do it. For me, there was no plan B. It’s a matter of pride. Being Polynesian, wearing that last name on my back, my father’s name from a small Samoan village, I just didn’t want to miss my last name, my family.
Now this takes guts.
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