Rejection can be tough to take for any sports person, but, when those feelings of disappointment are out-weighed by a growing passion to learn and thrive in a sport you only recently converted to, it can mark the beginning of an incredible journey.
Monte Gaddis, Corey Knox and Casey Clark are all former American Football players who played for Toronto Wolfpack in their pre-season trial game against Brighouse Rangers.
Despite an impressive victory over their experienced hosts, none of three three made the cut, as head coach Paul Rowley and director of rugby Brian Noble instead set about assembling a legitimate team of all stars for the maiden season in League 1.
Undeterred, the trio have since agreed deals to play in the UK, and each is determined to forge their own path to the top of the sport.
Monte Gaddis is currently on the books at Shaw Cross Sharks, in National Conference League Division One.
“Out of 300 athletes involved in the Trials I was one of the 18 to come over in December for the game, and that was my first proper taste of the sport,” says Gaddis.
“Once I found out that I wasn’t one of the guys that had won a contract with Toronto, I made it clear that I still wanted to continue on in Rugby League.
“Brett Turner, the head coach of Shaw Cross Sharks, got in touch on Twitter and handed me the opportunity, with open arms, to continue to my career.
“I was training with them almost straight away, and the rest is history.
“Toronto Wolfpack helped me out with the plane tickets, which I am extremely appreciative of, and the guys at the Sharks have been so welcoming since I’ve arrived.
“I’m sharing some of my footwork expertise from my own experience and they’re teaching me the nuances of the sport.
“Things like positioning and how to play to preserve energy, flipping the attacker on his back, slowing the play down, all that stuff.
“Little things like that have helped so much and everybody has been so welcoming. Rugby League is like a family.
On the transition into League, Gaddis adds: “Football is very much a stop and start sport, played in short bursts, but Rugby League is continuous running.
“You’re getting knocked on the ground, you’re going back ten, tackling, and it’s the first time in my life that I have done this.
“My stand-out attribute at this moment is my tackling, and that’s from my experience as a line backer in American Football.
“I don’t fear any man, I will go up against anybody they put in front of me, and I will play wherever they put me because I am a team player.
“An my number one goal is to earn a contract with Toronto Wolfpack, but I am keeping my options open.
“I know the contracts are not going to come fast, so I am trusting the process and grinding hard every day.
“Of course, a huge ambition is to play for USA in a World Cup, and I am not going to stop until I get my opportunity.
“I know right now my chances are slim because I don’t have the experience, but I am going to keep working until I do have it.”
Among Gaddis’s team-mates that December afternoon in Brighouse was Corey Knox, who has since linked up with Yorkshire Men’s League Premier Division side Queensbury.
“I’ve always found a Rugby League a fascinating sport,” says Knox, a former NFL full-back on the books of the Buffalo Bills.
“Coming from America, where we grew up playing tackle football in the yard, with no equipment on, it was always interesting to me.
“I was finally formally introduced to the sport by the coaches and management of the Toronto Wolfpack.
“The toughest thing about adjusting to the sport has definitely been developing the match fitness.
“In American Football you get so much more rest in between each play, so that’s something I’ve had to work on constantly.
“My ambitions for this year are to learn as much as possible and make as big of impact as I can to help this club win.
“But my long-term plans are to go at this game as hard as I possibly can.
“It’s a chance for me to continue to be a professional athlete so I’m working at it like my life depends on it – in a lot of ways, it does.
“We all have something that keeps us going, and this is it for me.
“I am an American Football player that is going to give it all he has to reach the top level in Rugby League.
“And I am being given all the support in the world by my new team-mates at Queensbury. They have been incredibly welcoming.
“I feel like I’ve been one of the lads here my whole life.
“The people of England are truly a wholesome and genuine bunch I’m really enjoying everything so far thanks to them.”
Knox hopes that his own rise to the top of the sport can coincide with the Wolfpack’s: “The sport absolutely has the potential to be huge in USA and Canada.
“It has everything thing you dream about in sports – action, scoring, passion, grit, intensity, big hits, drama, but most importantly there is a mutual love and respect between the players, for the game, and for those who play it.
“I think it will come around big time as it’s already making progress back home.
“I think the Wolfpack management has the right ideas and they’re on the right path to deliver success, and eventually compete at the top level.
“Toronto is a great city that supports their teams, so it will be great to see when it does happen.”
Completing the trio of Wolfpack trialists pursuing their dream in England’s community game is Casey Clark, who is the most experienced of the three thanks to spells in the AMNRL with Philadelphia Fight and Jacksonville Axemen.
“I played football all through junior high and high school and ran a bit of track,” he explains.
“I also wrestled during my junior year at high school and started playing rugby union in my sophomore year at high school.
“I didn’t really get exposed to League until I went over to New Zealand, where I played union for three years.
“I saw the Warriors play while I was over there, I went to an ANZAC test, watched the 2008 World Cup and I really got a feel for the sport.
“But I didn’t actually start playing Rugby League until 2011, when I went to Jacksonville and played a season with the Axemen.
“I immediately found that the contact in League is much more physical and the general play isn’t as messy.
“There are active rucks in union, where bodies are flying all over the place, mauls, line-outs.
“If you can get good at those things then it becomes a lot more crisp and a lot more clean, but getting to that stage takes a lot of time and a lot of effort.
“In less developed countries, like the US and like Canada, where union isn’t learnt from a young age, it’s a lot more scrappy.
“In League, it is more about the fundamentals – running, passing, catching and tackling – you have to be good at all four of those.
“If you have a deficiency in any of those qualities then it’s going to be noticeable out there on the field.”
Clark’s decision to sign for Underbank Rangers for the 2017 season was helped by a pre-existing link, stretching from the Huddersfield suburb across the Atlantic.
“I already had a connection through one of the players, Billy Rogers, who played for Jacksonville Axemen last year.
“We’d played against each other a bit, so there was some history there.
“We’re top of the table right now and my immediate target is to focus on performing well every week, and help Underbank win promotion to the Premier Division.
“After that my focus is to earn selection for USA in the World Cup this autumn. I want to be fit, conditioned and ready to go.”
Clark opted to try out for the Wolfpack despite a number of previous false dawns, and having been a part of the environment he is confident that the club, under the guidance of CEO Eric Perez, is the real deal.
“There was a buzz on the internet around the Wolfpack, people were talking about it, but at first people were a little sceptical and hesitant.
“A few of us had been for try-outs with other rugby ventures, but then not a word back afterwards.
“But when it became clear that this was actually going to happen there was a huge amount of excitement.
“They’re probably going to make it to the Super League – the guys that they’ve signed have so many years of experience.
“They certainly didn’t mess around when they were putting together the roster.
“But it’ll be interesting to see how the people of Toronto get involved with it, and I know they’re already doing a ton of promotional stuff up there.
“I think the biggest thing to help them over there is getting exposure on TV. If people can access the games that way then it will make it much easier to establish a fan base.”
While the Wolfpack’s progress in the years to come will be fascinating, it will be perhaps even more enlightening to follow the careers of Gaddis, Knox and Clark as they chase their dreams of playing their new favourite sport at the highest possible level.
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