Ryan Grigson has a reputation as someone who never sleeps. The second year general manager of the Indianapolis Colts is constantly scouring the waiver wires and scouting in an effort to try and improve a team that he inherited just 2 years ago that was completely different from the previous era and was coming off of a 2-14 season. Still, however, despite severe salary cap restrictions and a host of other issues, Grigson managed to put together a team that stunned everybody and made the playoffs with an 11-5 record. He had made a name for himself by finding guys seemingly out of nowhere and giving them a shot, and a lot of them were working out. Grigson wasn't just sticking to the traditional scouting routes, either. The longtime NFL scout who had also spent time as a scout and executive in the Canadian Football League turned to Canada to try and find anybody who he thought had a shot to help his team. One of his very first moves as general manager was to sign linebacker Jerrell Freeman from the CFL, and Freeman burst onto the scene as a Pro Bowl caliber linebacker, and he has improved on that production this year.
Ryan Grigson's sights were set on much further and more obscure places for finding an NFL player than Canada, however, and this summer he signed a player who immediately caught the attention of fans and media. In July, Grigson flew South African rugby player Daniel Adongo to Indianapolis, Indiana in the United States of America and the teaching of the 23-year old Adongo began.
The Colts brought him in for a tryout and immediately they could see that he was an absolutely tremendous athlete. Very raw in terms of football skill, yes, but a great athlete. The Colts were hooked, and they signed him to a one year deal.
They didn't really even know where to play him at first. They tried seeing how he could catch, but soon realized that defense and outside linebacker was the best spot for him. They put together videos of some of the best pass rushers in the NFL for Adongo to watch, and in practice every day he got to watch one of them in real life - Robert Mathis. Adongo worked tirelessly trying to learn the position and the sport.
In training camp, several of the other media members and I would do an Adongo watch each day and always be looking for what he was doing. Normally, the only things we saw were him standing on the sidelines watching, and occasionally he needed help strapping up his shoulder pads or buckling his helmet. The most work he did was a pass rush drill right near the end of camp, and he didn't do that for long either. And at times he would be on a scout team defense, wearing a skull cap over his helmet, but not doing much. The coaches continuously had to teach him about the sport and about what he was supposed to do and what he wasn't supposed to do. It was clear very early on that this project was going to take longer than training camp and would last the entire season at least.
But through it all, he proved to be a fast learner and most importantly, he wanted to learn. He has a tremendous work ethic and is completely motivated to becoming a better player. It shows in the things his fellow teammates said about him this week.
Cornerback Vonate Davis:
"First of all, he's a very good kid. He's humble, very humble. He comes in every day and he works hard. He leaves everything out on the practice field. So I'm not surprised that he's activated. His hard work, I can see that it has paid off. The coaches, they really believe in him.
Linebacker Jerrell Freeman:
"I'm excited to see him. I'm definitely excited for him. He's been working hard, definitely. I don't know if you guys have been able to see him in practice or anything, especially on special teams just running down there, just being an animal. He gets out there, I am excited to see what he's going to do...
"[Adongo's transition] was pretty easy because he's a great guy. He fits in here well. But it wasn't really hard for us, because he was coming up and asking any and every question. It didn't matter how big or how small, he's always asking questions trying to understand the game, trying to understand what's goes on around here. Having a guy like that that just wants to be a sponge, it's always great to have around."
Linebacker Robert Mathis:
"Just his football IQ. He knows what he's doing, as opposed to when he first got here he was raw, to say the least. He's leaps and bounds, just made a lot of strides. It's something good to see...
"I see he has a lot of potential, and he can be a force in this league. Just got to keep him on the right track. (Mentally) he is already there. So he's going to be fine."
Defensive lineman Cory Redding:
"I am excited. I am excited. The guy couldn't even put his pants on six months ago, didn't know how to get into a stance, knew nothing about football and look at where he's at now. He's giving the offensive line fits. He's strong. He's fast. Very aggressive player and I cannot wait to see him line up wherever they put him. Whoever's across from him is going to be in trouble. He's a heck of a player, you're all going to see it. And I can't wait to see him play...
"I'm excited, man. He's like a baby to the game. The day he got here he was like crawling, and now he's up and walking, running as a toddler, whatever if you want to picture him as a baby in football. Didn't know nothing about it. But now he's looking at all the defenses, looking at special teams. Studying guys' body types and different pass rush moves to get on them, just learning everything he can about the game and it's so exciting to see. He has his notebook in front of him, he has his iPad in front of him, he's looking at stuff. The guy is being a very, umm, technician to the game. And that's what I love to see because it's going to transition on the field."
Head coach Chuck Pagano:
"I think back to his very first workout when we first brought him in after a 17-hour flight to Atlanta and then catch a connector up here and come right in. Go to the indoor facility. As we bring in guys every week to try out, street guys and things like that, from what we saw to right now, it's night and day. The guy is a smart guy. We know from a physical standpoint he's very, very athletic. He can run. He's big. He's strong. He's a tireless worker. He's been a great pro. Even though he hasn't played, he's picked up a ton. Our veteran guys, guys like Robert (Mathis) and the rest of the guys in the defensive room, have been tremendous working with him and mentoring him and bringing him along and helping his development to this point. So, other than actual real game under the lights stuff, he's been outstanding. If he gets an opportunity, I'm sure everybody is going to be real eager to see what he does...
"Just watching him on the card D and representing and lining up as our opponent's defense week in and week out for the last 13 weeks, you've seen him every single day and every single week get better and better. (He's) starting to understand the nuances of the game, both in the run game, the pass game, setting the edge, dropping into coverage, rushing the passer. He's done a great job. Again, he hasn't been on the field under the lights when it counts, but he's played on a big field before. He's ran around and tackled people before with no pads, so, I suspect instinctively, he'll know how to do that. It might be even more physical and violent because he does have pads. Don't be shocked to see him knock some people around if he gets an opportunity."
His teammates are exicited for him and are exicted to see him. The fans are exicted to see him. The media is exicted to see him. The Monday Morning Quarterback's Peter King wrote Friday on the ten things he will be watching this Sunday, and one of them was Daniel Adongo:
6. The Daniel Adongo experiment put into action. The rugby-star-turned-outside-linebacker is on the Colts' active roster for the first time this week. How cool would it be to see Adongo make a big special teams play in the tussle with the Bengals? I'll be looking for him whenever the Colts are kicking off.
Adongo has come a long way since he first stepped onto the practice field with the Colts and didn't even know how to put his uniform on. It's something I didn't think we would see until next year and is a testament to him and his work ethic that he was promoted to the active roster this week. His role will be special teams on Sunday, but it doesn't matter - this guy was just signed less than five months ago and had to learn the game then as well. And this Sunday, he will be suited up wearing the Colts uniform and will be out there on special teams.
Adongo was asked this week which part of his game translated the best and easiest from rugby to football, and he said:
"Hitting people (laughs). The aggression, the technique. Put all those together, a big collision. They are similar in that aspect."
That's what his main role is going to be on Sunday: hitting people on special teams. I'm really excited to watch this guy, but more importantly, I'm super proud of him and his progress so far and the work ethic he has shown to get here. From where he was during training camp to where he is now - on the active roster of the Indianapolis Colts - is truly remarkable and is worth noting.
Keep an eye out for number 56 on special teams on Sunday. You just might see a hit you won't want to miss, but at the very least, you'll see a player who was playing rugby halfway across the world just a half of a year ago and is now making the transition to American football. You won't want to miss that, either.
For a great read on Adongo's transition to American football and the process the Colts went about in finding, signing, and instructing him, read this tremendous article from The Monday Morning Quarterback's Robert Klemko from a few months ago.