Overlooking Leicester Square, Harry Mallinder takes a moment to reflect on his past and contemplate the future. On a chilly Monday morning, the former rugby player finds himself on the eighth floor of a London office building, finalizing the details of his new venture.
In an alternate reality, Mallinder might have been leading Northampton’s charge in the Premiership or anticipating a call from Steve Borthwick for a Six Nations squad selection. He could have already earned numerous caps, considering he was once seen as English rugby’s golden boy.
The son of a coach and a versatile player comfortable at positions 10, 12, or 15, Mallinder’s career reached its pinnacle in 2016 when he captained and kicked England to victory at the U20 World Championship. A serious knee injury in 2018, followed by fitness setbacks, disrupted his progress. A stint in Japan failed to reignite his career, and now, he’s embarking on a new challenge.
With a hopeful smile, Mallinder announces his participation in the NFL’s International Player Pathway, a move reminiscent of Louis Rees-Zammit, who stepped away from Welsh rugby to pursue the same opportunity. Mallinder, aiming to become a kicker or punter, expresses his enthusiasm, stating, “It’s a fantastic opportunity. This is a fresh start.”
As one of the first specialists to join the International Player Pathway, Mallinder, with a background in rugby, acknowledges the uniqueness of the opportunity. “I’m not just here to make up the numbers,” he declares. “While I want to enjoy every moment of this experience, I’m also here to make it happen. I want to make this my thing.”
Mallinder is among 16 athletes from various sports chasing their American football dreams. The players will undergo training at the IMG Academy in Florida before showcasing their skills to NFL scouts at the Combine in March.
The addition of kicking and punting hopefuls brings an intriguing dimension to the initiative. Despite differences in technique, the transferable skills make the transition smoother. Mallinder, though acknowledging his novice status, appears well-prepared for the switch.
“I just love kicking,” he shares passionately. “Since before I could walk, I kicked any type of balls that I could get my hands on. I love the pressure… I love proving people wrong.”
Mallinder recognizes the challenges ahead, acknowledging that success in the NFL is not guaranteed. Only a handful of International Player Pathway graduates have made it to an active NFL roster since the program’s inception in 2017. Undeterred, Mallinder, now 27, approaches the opportunity with a balance of elite experience and youthful energy.
His journey has been marked by toil and turmoil, but Mallinder embraces this new challenge with contentment. With a rare opportunity on the horizon, he remains focused on the present and the steps needed to turn his NFL dream into reality.
“I’m not one to dwell on the past… This opportunity is at my fingertips, so I’m doing everything between now and that date at the combine to make it happen. I’m mindful of the fact that this is a rare opportunity… my eyes are set on making this NFL dream a reality.”