‘Joyous journey’ ends with Jarryd Hayne on 49er roster
JARRYD Hayne has overcome enormous odds to make it to the NFL starting line, earning a place on the final 53-man roster at the San Francisco 49ers for the 2015-16 season.
Almost 12 months to the day after he stunned the NRL by announcing he wanted to pursue a long-time dream and play American football, Hayne survived the team's final player cut, earning high praise from coach Jim Tomsula.
"I said something to the effect of, 'Welcome to the starting line. It's a long race,'" Tomsula said when asked how he had broken the news.
"Making an NFL roster is an outstanding accomplishment, period.
"You're talking about a guy coming into a game he's never played. The odds of an American who grows up in this game playing in the NFL is astronomical. Now you're talking about a guy who wasn't raised in this game and has made it. It's a tremendous achievement."
Tomsula wasn't kidding when he talked about the odds.
Of all the football players good enough to get a college scholarship, just 17 in every 1000 go on to get contracts with NFL clubs.
All it took for Hayne to secure his opportunity was a few months of training with the 49ers, and four pre-season games.
Apart from his exemplary attitude at training, it was his performances in those games that won over not only the coach, but also a legion of new fans.
Hayne finished second in the NFL with 175 rushing yards in the pre-season. He also produced a league-high average of 4.84 yards per carry after contact.
His forte, however, was on punt returns, a role almost identical to playing at full-back in the NRL.
He averaged 18.1 yards on nine punt returns, almost double the competition average, suggesting he was most likely to play that role once the season starts this weekend.
Hayne said he was over the moon about getting his opportunity, revealing he hadn't always been confident he would secure a contract.
"It was a long process with a lot of dark days and a lot of joyous days," he said.
"The people who are really close to me jumped on board.
"We just had fun.
"That's what the whole journey has been about. I wanted to take a risk, and I wanted to put myself out there.
"Faith without action is dead. This whole journey, I've never felt so alive."
Hayne wasn't the only Aussie to get a spot on a roster.
Melbourne pair Jordan Berry and Brad Wing also picked up spots as punters, Berry winning the role with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Wing making the cut with the New York Giants.
Queenslander Jesse Williams' dream is still alive after he was placed on the reserve/no football injury list at the Settle Seahawks.
The 24-year-old, taken by Seattle in the 2013 NFL draft, didn't play in his first two seasons with the franchise due to serious knee injuries, and in May this year had a kidney removed after being diagnosed with cancer.
The designation means Williams can't play for the first six weeks of the season, and will need a medical clearance to be activated on to the main list.