Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Updated: April 4, 12:11 PM ET
Rugby star Hayden Smith joins Jets
By Rich Cimini
The New York Jets on Tuesday signed Australian rugby star Hayden Smith, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound former basketball player who projects as a tight end in the NFL, to a three-year contract, his agent, Jack Bechta, confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini.
Financial terms weren't immediately available and the Jets had yet to acknowledge the deal.
Tim Brewster, Smith's personal coach, announced the deal on Twitter earlier Tuesday.
"Hayden Smith has signed with the Jets! Really think this guys upside in the NFL is huge!," Brewster, the former University of Minnesota coach, wrote Tuesday.
Smith had visited a number of NFL teams, including the Jets, who hosted him in early February.
Smith was born in Australia, played college basketball at Division II Metropolitan State in Denver, took up rugby and made the U.S. national team. From there, he played professional rugby on a premier team in England.
This wouldn't be the Jets' first Aussie signing. From 2005 to 2007, their punter was Ben Graham, a former Australian Rules football star. But Smith isn't a punter and is supposed to be a terrific athlete. He reportedly ran the 40 in 4.7 seconds.
"A lot of coaches shy away from guys who haven't played the game because it is an exhausting process. To me, that's the exciting part," Brewster, who has mentored Smith in the rugby star's quest to become a tight end, told the Daily Telegraph in Australia. "Taking a piece of clay like that. And I am going to tell you, Hayden Smith is one beautiful piece of clay. Just mold him into what you want him to be."
|Hayden Smith, shown here making a tackle for the U.S. at the Rugby World Cup in September, will try to play in the NFL as a tight end.|
Brewster has experience in teaching the tight end position to non-football players. He was the Chargers' tight ends coach from 2002 to 2004, when he helped Antonio Gates make the transition from college basketball.
The Jets' situation at tight end is fairly open. The starter is Dustin Keller, but they lost his backup, Matthew Mulligan, in free agency. The only other tight ends have limited experience, Josh Baker and Jeff Cumberland, returning from Achilles tendon surgery.