Hayden Smith, a native of Australia who mastered the sport of rugby, continues to showcase his athletic ability at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. After signing with the Jets on April 3, Smith has become a noticeable presence on the field. He has all the tangibles. He's built solid at 6'6", 255, runs the 40 in 4.7, and exhibits natural hand-eye coordination.
However, the question remains as to whether or not he will be able to make the transition to football.
After playing professional rugby in England for the past four years, Smith grasped the opportunity to follow his childhood dream.
"It's always been a vision of mine growing up to be able to play American football," said Smith. "The NFL being the pinnacle of that, I saw a bit of opportunity where I was still young enough to pursue my dream and so I thought I would go after it."
Smith, wearing number 82, running pass routes and learning the fundamentals of football, claims he has put his rugby days behind him.
"From the minute I stepped into this building there has definitely been a mental shift. I have just been focusing on everything concerned with football," he said.
This kind of behavior has not gone unnoticed by head coach Rex Ryan.
"He's out there by himself, running the routes, doing all this," said Ryan. "I know he studies like crazy. He got the Gatorade packets that the athletic trainers provide and the playbook and the notebook under his arms. He wants to be not just a sidebar subject. He wants to play in this league."
Unlike the rookies, Smith, 27, has had the opportunity to work with Jets coaches recently since he was not coming directly out of college. TEs coach Mike Devlin and assistant TEs coach Lance Taylor are working with Smith to help him understand the playbook. Hayden has found working with Devlin helpful.
"He's been amazing," Smith said. "He's been really good in understanding the position I am in, the unique situation, and the fact that it is going to be a long process to this development."
Every day is becoming a new experience for Smith, who just put a helmet on for the first time Friday. In terms of progression he said, "Where I am today in comparison to when I walked into the building, there's a huge difference. It's just going to be a matter of stacking those days on days and see where I am at the end of it."
There is no question about the amount of potential Smith has. As Ryan stated, "I would not bet against this young man."