Christian Scotland-Williamson embracing journey from rugby to the NFL
"This is an opportunity that I never thought I'd have in my life and I didn't want to die wondering: 'what if?'"
By James Simpson - @JS_Football
Last Updated: 13/07/19 8:08am
Christian Scotland-Williamson is embracing his journey from Worcester Warrior to Pittsburgh Steeler and says the NFL Academy will give students a "realistic ambition".
In recent years, we have seen a rise in British athletes in the NFL. Jay Ajayi - or "London-born Jay Ajayi" as he's become more commonly known - rose to prominence with his back-to-back 200-yard games in 2016 and a Super Bowl win in 2018.
Still, Ajayi - who moved to the States when he was just seven - took a traditional path to the league. More recently came Carolina Panthers defensive end Efe Obada, who featured in just five games for the London Warriors before becoming the first international player to go straight from a European league to the NFL.
Alex Gray has been with the Atlanta Falcons for two seasons after leaving rugby union and joining the league through the NFL's International Player Pathway program in 2017, and Christian Wade - third in career tries in Premiership Rugby - made the leap and is attempting a breakthrough with the Buffalo Bills.
Another man in the midst of the move is Scotland-Williamson, tight end for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
At 26, Scotland-Williamson is relatively young for his position, where the stars tend to hit their primes later in their careers. However, at this point, those players usually have buckets of experience under their belts.
So, with zero experience of the game, why did Scotland-Williamson, after four years of playing rugby with the Worcester Warriors, make a massive, difficult leap and attempt to make it in the NFL?
"I'd seen Alex Gray had done it and I just needed to have a crack it it really. I had always thought I had the raw tools to go and do something in America," he said at the NFL Academy's Tottenham Hotspur Stadium Showcase.
"My brother played college basketball in America so even when I flew out to see him, I got offered a few scholarships. But it wasn't really feasible because I was doing well over here in school and just where my life was going. I really loved rugby and it wasn't the right time then.
"But I always had an interest. I played professional rugby for four years and thought: 'why not now? Why not me?'"
After he left Worcester in December 2017, joining the league's Pathway Program was a huge step for 'CSW', and he featured in a class with Jordan Mailata, Chris Ezeala, Tigie Sankoh and former NFL draftee Moritz Bohringer.
All four are fighting to make and stay on NFL rosters, and Scotland-Williamson says the huge challenge was part of the reason he wanted to join the league.
"This is my Everest. I knew what the next four or five years of rugby were going to offer me and it would have been great.
"I had really high aspirations and big hopes and big dreams and was starting to get close to actually achieving those but it was more: this is an opportunity that I never thought I'd have in my life and I didn't want to die wondering: 'what if?'
"My dad was an amateur boxing world champion and my brother played college basketball so sports is in my family.
"I've been a professional in one sport and thought: 'do you think your natural tools, genetics that came from your parents will get you to be able to pick up a sport that quickly and compete at the highest level?'
"And I feel like what I've really been able to do and catch up in the past year is a testament to my raw talent and also my brain in terms of how I've been able to apply myself and catch up.
"But it's the complete unknown. It's someone saying to you: do you want to have the chance to go see Neverland and you say yes I do and you buy that ticket you get on the plane and it's a complete unknown.
"You don't know what it's going to be like, you don't know what each day will bring but it's just an incredible opportunity and it's one that I have not regretted taking."
Behind the NFL Academy's stadium showcase
In the first ever NFL event at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, 150 teenagers took part in the final trials for the NFL Academy.
Scotland-Williamson, who was on Pittsburgh's practice squad last season and is aiming to make the 53-man roster this year, spent his time at the showcase coaching up and teaching the NFL Academy participants, and enjoys the fact these kids have the opportunities he didn't - as it could help them reach his heights.
He said: "I actually feel quite passionately about these about things like this because I was never actually in an academy for rugby.
"My route into professional sport was definitely far from traditional so the fact that I have ended up in the NFL kind of suits my story.
"I wasn't always being selected for and being put forward for things. I always had to fight for everything I had.
"It's an opportunity to be here and tell people that this is an opportunity where, if you can show your raw talent and work hard, you can end up getting somewhere because it's an opportunity that I was never afforded.
"I feel quite passionately about giving people the opportunities and telling them this is a realistic ambition."