Louis Rees-Zammit 'loving' NFL start at Chiefs and insists it was right time for 'gamble'

Louis Rees-Zammit. PA Images
Rees-Zammit’s aspirations of making it to the NFL are no longer a pipe dream. He’s a long way from Penarth, smiling from ear to ear. Credit: PA

Louis Rees-Zammit steps in front of a microphone. A familiar face in unfamiliar surroundings.

Behind him is a backdrop splashed with the logo of the Kansas City Chiefs, back-to-back Super Bowl champions.

He has been at the Chiefs’ training facility to take part in a mini-camp just for the team’s rookies, donning the red and gold uniform for the very first time.

Before this, he spent time training in a more intimate setting with the Chiefs' star quarterback and one of the most recognisable faces in sport, Patrick Mahomes.

Rees-Zammit’s aspirations of making it to the NFL are no longer a pipe dream. He’s a long way from Penarth, smiling from ear to ear.

“It’s been great,” he tells ITV Cymru Wales. “I got to meet all the boys and start training properly.

"I’ve been getting into the playbook and starting to learn everything.

“It’s obviously going to take time but I’ve been learning every day. I’m loving the start.”

Aged 23, the former winger was still very much in the early knockings of what looked destined to be a long and illustrious career as a professional rugby player.

But he rocked the sport, certainly in Wales, when he announced he was quitting the game to pursue a shot at the NFL.

Recently, he courted criticism from some for saying he had achieved everything he wanted to in rugby having won a Six Nations title, been selected by the Lions and played at a World Cup.

Critics believe he left a lot on the table, but Rees-Zammit insists he is happy with his decision but accepts it is a gamble.

“I’ve always wanted to do this so I backed myself that this was the right time to do it,” he says.

“There was a lot of noise after I said that I’d achieved everything I wanted to in rugby.

“There are things in rugby that I could have achieved but I was very happy with what I’d done by the age of 23 so I thought now was the perfect time to do it.

“Yeah, it was obviously a gamble because I was leaving rugby behind to try and make this dream come true.

“But now I’m at the Chiefs, I need to continue to work hard and try to make the 53-man roster.”

Being picked up by the Chiefs is already further than some thought he might get. But the Welshman will now spend the summer trying to convince head coach Andy Reid that he is worthy of a spot on the 53-man squad which will be active week-in, week-out during the season.

He is in competition with team-mates who have been playing the sport since they were children.

Rees-Zammit is confident that he is learning rapidly, particularly since arriving in Kansas City, but there are challenges.

Currently, the winger-turned-running back is staying in a hotel and spending his nights with new team-mate Ian Book, revising a playbook which is thicker than the Yellow Pages and towers over anything he would have experienced in rugby.

“It’s been mentally challenging,” he explains. “I knew how tough it was going to be and how much I had to know but actually seeing a playbook in front of you and how much you have to learn is very different.

“Honestly, you probably learn up to 1,000 plays during the season in the NFL. In rugby, you’ve got to learn about 60.

“It’s very different and something I’m completely new to. But I’m loving learning it and learning the different styles of play, different set-ups.”

Much of Rees-Zammit’s press conference is spent discussing how American football and rugby compare.

And he drew similarities between his new team-mate Mahomes and an old one, in Dan Biggar.

“Looking at a quarter-back and fly-half is probably the most similar position in rugby,” he explained. “Patrick is unbelievable at reading the game.

“Dan Biggar was my favourite 10 and he is one of the best 10s to ever play the game. You can really see how they read the game so quickly and make decisions so quickly.

“Patrick Mahomes can read the game, read the cues, scan defences quickly and make plays.

“Dan has done that since he made his debut for Wales at 18, I think. That’s probably the comparison - it’s how quick they can read the game and make decisions off that.”

Professional athletes, especially ones who now operate in the most lucrative sport in the world like Rees-Zammit, can sometimes feel like they’re made of different stuff to the rest of us. But sometimes they offer up a reminder that in some ways, they’re not.

When a question about Wales comes up, he says: “I’m missing my mum and dad the most. I haven’t seen them for a while.

“I was in Florida for two and a half months, then I spent 10 days with them before coming straight back out here.

“I’m missing my mum and dad the most.

“I miss the Welsh cakes, I’m not going to lie to you. They were my favourite.

“And all my friends, I haven’t seen my friends for a long time now.

"I’m very proud to be Welsh. Wales is the best country in the world in my opinion. I’m missing everything about it but definitely my family and friends.”

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