(CNN) — His mantra was “don’t have a plan … fall forward, don’t fall backwards.”
Turns out Jordan Mailata fell on his feet, becoming one of the NFL’s best starting left tackles and a vital cog in the Philadelphia Eagles’ run to the Super Bowl.
The hulking Australian admitted that if he’d been told what his future might hold back when he was doing odd jobs to pay the bills in between playing rugby — including scaffolding, carpentry and demolition to name a few — he would’ve laughed at the notion.
“I’d probably say: ‘What shrooms are you taking because I don’t know what the Super Bowl is? You’re talking about that concert at halftime?'”
But that’s where 25-year-old Mailata finds himself, one victory away from becoming the first Australian to play in a Super Bowl and win a championship ring. His teammate, Arryn Siposs, is in a similar position as the Eagles punter hails from Melbourne.
Born in a Sydney suburb, rugby league was Mailata’s first sport.
However, playing rugby wasn’t enough to pay the bills, so he tried his hand at all manner of jobs. “Scaffolder, doing carpentry, demolition, doing whatever I could to pay the bills,” said Mailata.
He played in Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs’ Under-18 side — a professional team — but in 2014, Mailata collapsed during a preseason session.
He was taken to the hospital and was diagnosed with a heart disorder. He subsequently underwent two operations to repair the upper and lower chambers of his heart.
Because of his inability to exercise while recovering, Mailata had put on almost 20kg (about 44 pounds) by the time he returned to action
When he did make his comeback, it was for the South Sydney Rabbitohs’ Under-20 team. But in order to progress, his coaches wanted Mailata to lose 15kg (33 pounds) from his six-foot-eight frame which would allow him to play longer stints on the field given rugby league’s free-flowing nature.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Rabbitohs offered Mailata a one-year, $3,500 deal in 2017 to play for their feeder team with the added clause that they would consider a full-time contract if he lost the weight.
Meanwhile, Mailata’s management team had put together a highlights package for rugby union clubs to view his talents. It just so happened that this eventually fell into the hands of scouts in the NFL’s International Players Pathway Program.
Mailata’s now legendary highlight reel repeatedly shows a posse of men required to drag him down on the rugby field — and features one unfortunate player who was bulldozed by a particularly bruising tackle.
“I already had hardly any body fat, so it was an option where I’d either have to starve myself or chop off a leg,” he told the New York Times in 2019. “I talked to my agency, and they said: ‘Why don’t you play a sport that appreciates your size?'”
So with no NFL experience under his belt, Mailata chose to try his hand at America’s game.
Learning on the job
Learning a new sport is extremely tough. Learning a sport which hinges on tiny technical details is nigh-on-impossible.
There have been many players, in particular ones from abroad, who have struggled to pick up the intricacies of American football and have been forced to give up the game.
In his draft report on the NFL website, Mailata was said to “require an extensive period of development to learn technique and to improve” and was “the attacker in rugby and will have to learn to play from defensive posture.”
However, in his favor were his physical attributes — he was described as having “tremendous size with frame that carries weight well, good musculation and thickness in lower body and very good physical traits and athletic traits.”
As part of the International Pathway Program — aimed at increasing participation in the NFL from around the world — Mailata was shipped to the IMG Institute in Florida to join four other hopefuls.
Their arduous training program — 12 hours a day, seven days a week — was filmed for the NFL Network’s show “Undrafted,” which previously followed Washington Commanders defensive end Efe Obada.
Despite his inexperience, the Eagles decided to take a punt on Mailata in the seventh round of the 2018 draft, a year after the team won their first Super Bowl title.
He became only the second player to be drafted with no American high school or college experience after Moritz Böhringer.
Although Mailata didn’t feature during his first two seasons in the NFL, that period allowed him to learn the minutiae of being a top-level offensive tackle.
As he learned the ropes of preparing to face the best pass rushers around, Mailata described being faced with an NFL playbook as like reading a “different language.”
In 2020, the Australian finally made his NFL debut, replacing injured rookie Jack Driscoll in the third quarter of a game against the then-Washington Football Team early in the season. He made his first start in Week 4, finishing his first season in the league with 15 appearances and 10 starts.
Mailata impressed in his performances, so much so that in 2021, new Philadelphia head coach Nick Sirianni named the Australian as the starter. Mailata was also awarded a four-year, $64 million contract, including $40.85 million guaranteed.
Having blossomed into one of the best left tackles in the league, Mailata praised Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland as the key to his meteoric rise.
In his 39-year coaching career, Stoutland has been credited with coaching a number of successful offense lineman, including many multi-year Pro Bowlers, notably Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson.
“He is one of the most influential people in my life, on and off the field,” said Mailata of Stoutland.
“On the field mostly because he’s taught me everything … but just everything he’s built in that room is why we’re so close. He makes sure we’re always on top of our stuff, mentally and physically.”
Such is Stoutland’s influence on Mailata, the 25-year-old proudly announces he attended the “Jeff Stoutland University” during “Sunday Night Football” when players introduce themselves and typically state the college they attended.
This year, with the help of Stoutland’s daughter, Madison Lee, the Eagles designed a “Jeff Stoutland University” T-shirt to sell in support of the Eagles Autism Foundation.
The shirt features Stoutland’s own mantra — “hungry dogs run faster” — and the date 1984, his inaugural coaching year.
Having been named an alternate for the 2022 Pro Bowl after an excellent season with the Eagles, who have possibly the best offensive line in the league, Mailata is now on the cusp of history.
Together with Landon Dickerson, Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo and Lane Johnson — Mailata calls them his “brothers” — that quintet has become the bedrock for an almost unstoppable offense with a dynamic running game.
Building a culture of “accountability” in the offensive line room has also lead to its growth as a group and why the players have become so good at keeping quarterback Jalen Hurts upright.
“What makes it so good is the five guys have to be in sync for the car to go. It’s a five-wheel car,” said Mailata.
“And once you start playing with the guy next to you, you start to get a feel of how to execute the right techniques on the sideline or whether it’s in real time right there.
“So I think just from that mold right there, from the accountability and being able to look you in the eye and tell you that you messed up or how something isn’t feeling right is crucial.”
Now, Mailata is just one game away from being crowned a Super Bowl champion.
“My dreams only started five years ago. All these guys that I play with, my brothers, they’ve been dreaming about this since they were kids. And for me, I’m living with them and through them. Just enjoying the moment and taking everything in.”
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