Daniel Adongo is finally starting to feel comfortable with the Indianapolis Colts.
That's good: The Kenyan rugby player and former Counties Manukau lock is about to play his first American football game - ever - when Indianapolis faces the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday (NZT) in a showdown of NFL division leaders.
Adongo has worked out the lingo and nuances of the sport, learned the proper way to put on pads and a helmet, and knows his place in the Colts' locker room. There's still more work to do, but the newly minted linebacker will get to show the American football world how far he's come in four months.
He will be primarily on special teams, but playing American football for the first time in the NFL in a game with playoff implications?
"I am excited," Adongo said on Wednesday, one day after being promoted from Indy's practice squad to the active roster. "As I said before and I'll reiterate it, my excitement is being subdued by the fact I have a task, an obligation and a duty to perform what's being asked from me for the coaches and my teammates."
It was late July when general manager Ryan Grigson decided to take the plunge after a yearlong quest to find an overseas player who could help his team. Grigson gambled on Adongo, a Kenyan rugby player who was big, fast and had a penchant for hitting.
Adongo, surprised initially by the invite, made the flight to Atlanta, then hopped on a connecting plane to Indy and worked out at the Colts' headquarters during a rookie mini-camp. Within hours, the Colts signed Adongo to a contract and two days later, the 6-foot-5, 257-pound (1.96-metre, 117-kilogram) American football novice stood out when he reported to training camp in a pair of short shorts and football-style shirt.
Back then, of course, some wondered if Adongo could cut it in the NFL. There are few doubters left.
"It was a stretch," NFL sacks leader Robert Mathis said when asked about his initial thoughts of Adongo succeeding. "I think he's made everyone believe."
By some accounts, the 24-year-old Adongo has become a major headache for the Colts' offensive line in practice. And now that he's up to 270 pounds (123 kilos), he could create problems for opponents, too, if he gets into the game as a pass-rusher at Cincinnati.
The Colts are being patient, though.
Rather than pushing Adongo into preseason games, they kept their secret under wraps as he got acclimated. Adongo started the season on the practice squad.
But with Adongo showing steady progress in practice and Mario Harvey, a key special teams player for Indy, going on season-ending injured reserve with a torn meniscus on Tuesday, the Colts decided to give Adongo a chance. Coach Chuck Pagano said he expects the rookie to play primarily on special teams and he's confident Adongo will make a difference.
"The guy is a smart guy. We know from a physical standpoint he's very, very athletic. He can run. He's big. He's strong. He's a tireless worker. He's been a great pro," Pagano said. "Even though he hasn't played, he's picked up a ton. Our veteran guys, guys like Robert (Mathis) and the rest of the guys in the defensive room, have been tremendous working with him and mentoring him and bringing him along and helping his development to this point."
One thing the Colts do know is that Adongo can hit.
He played for Kenya's Under-18 and U19 rugby squads. In 2006, scouts from the University of South Africa spotted Adongo during a tournament and a year later, he was attending the school. Then it was off to the Sharks Academy. He's competed in second-tier club championships in South Africa and New Zealand since 2010, and made his Super Rugby debut this year with the Southern Kings.
Just a few months later, Adongo's teammates believe he's ready.
"He's taken the language, the lingo, digested it and regurgitated that to the point now where he asks questions and we have to go back and look it (the language) up," Mathis said, smiling. "The last few months, I've seen it every day in practice, whether it's a spin move, a bull rush or whatever, and that's when you knew he was getting better."
All he has to do now is prove he can play on game day.
"I'm still just getting comfortable with my movements in pads, and that type of stuff," he said. "I'm not happy where I'm at right now."