Welsh rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit turns to NFL and signs with Kansas City Chiefs

Louis Rees-Zammit, the wicked fast Welsh rugby star and fan favorite, has made an extraordinary crossover to American football, signing a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, the team announced Friday.

The 23-year-old Welshman announced in January that he was departing from his sport and homeland for his long-shot dream at the NFL — much to the dismay of fierce rugby fans in the U.K. 

And it looks like his efforts paid off as the 6-foot-3, 212-pound star known for his ferocious speed has minted a deal with the Super Bowl’s latest winners, the Chiefs.

Rees-Zammit path across the pond started with the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, or IPPP, a bid from the NFL to increase the league’s player base beyond North America and attract around-the-world talent.  In January he flew to Florida for 10 weeks of intense training capped by a March showcase day before NFL club scouts.

A daunting task to change sports and country, Rees-Zammit said he had to do it.

“It’s definitely a narrow chance of success,” he told NBC News in January. “Boys in America play the sport when they are 5 years old, they go through the ranks in high school and college, and they get to know the game from pretty young.”

“For me, I’ve got to try to learn the game at 22 years old,” he said, weeks before his 23rd birthday on Feb. 3. “Obviously the odds are against me.”

The star said he “came to the real realization that, if I don’t do it now, I’ll probably regret it for the rest of my life.”

Wales' wing Louis Rees-Zammit is tackled by Argentina's flanker Marcos Kremer during the France 2023 Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Marseille, France, on Oct. 14, 2023.
Wales’ wing Louis Rees-Zammit is tackled by Argentina’s flanker Marcos Kremer during the World Cup quarter-final in Marseille, France, on Oct. 14, 2023.Christophe Simon / AFP – Getty Images file

It’s a major feat for Rees-Zammit, who is one of the world’s top young rugby stars, as successful rugby-crossovers are very rare. Perhaps the most prominent success prior to this was Jordan Mailata, who left Australian rugby to join the Philadelphia Eagles as an offensive tackle. 

In his rugby career, Rees-Zammit — often cheekily referred to by fans as “Rees Lightning” — has played as a winger for Wales, as well as the English club side Gloucester, and international super team the British & Irish Lions.

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