Carlin Isles, a 24-year-old US rugby sevens winger touted as the fastest man in rugby union, was signed to a practice squad receiver contract on Thursday by the National Football League’s (NFL) Detroit Lions.
The Lions, eliminated from playoff contention last Sunday, have been known for unusual moves in trying to land talent, bringing in a German player last year and Norwegian kicker Havard Rugland earlier this year after seeing him on a YouTube video.
Isles, dubbed the fastest man in rugby by Rugby magazine last year, underwent a tryout session for the Lions on Monday that included running the 40-yard dash in 4.22 seconds.
A spot opened for Isles after the Lions promoted tight end Matt Veldman from the practice squad to the active roster, to replace injured Brandon Pettigrew ahead of Detroit’s season-ending game tomorrow at Minnesota.
“You’re looking for athletes,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “It hasn’t been unusual to see basketball players transition to the NFL. That’s not just recently, that goes way back.”
“Even track guys like Bob Hayes and Renaldo Nehemiah. An athlete’s an athlete. There are skills that you can develop and if you see something you like, then you can work with him,” he added.
Isles, whose Ohio hometown of Massillon is a famed US high school gridiron hotbed and near the American Football Hall of Fame, was a sprint star and football player in college before switching to rugby union.
He plays for the Gentlemen of Aspen club team and has earned 11 caps for the USA Rugby Sevens squad.
Other NFL clubs have turned outside the usual US collegiate feeder system for talent this year.
Kenyan-born Daniel Adongo has played two games at linebacker this season for the playoff-bound Indianapolis Colts, after playing for South Africa’s Southern Kings in Super 15 rugby last season.
The San Francisco 49ers have signed England’s Lawrence Okoye, an Olympic shot put finalist at the London Games, as a defensive end. He is on injured reserve for the playoff-bound club after a preseason injury.