At 22, Andrew Motuapuaka has followed his passion for the oval ball all over the globe. Now, the Kiwi-born linebacker is on the brink of the NFL, writes Christopher Reive.

Andrew Motuapuaka knows a thing or two about starting from scratch. Growing up with his father in the American military, he became used to temporary addresses.

From New Zealand to Tonga, across the United States and even in Germany, no matter where he landed, he worked hard developing his craft. Now, the 22-year-old has a shot to prove he belongs on the biggest stage in American football.

The Auckland-born linebacker signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent ahead of the NFL season and will spend the next few weeks proving what he's capable of in front of the team's coaching staff.

Motuapuaka was undrafted after a four-year college career at Virginia Tech, where he built an impressive resume. With 333 tackles (32.5 tackles for loss), 11.5 sacks, five interceptions and six forced fumbles, he had plenty of suitors ahead of summer training camps.

Advertisement

"I was really just narrowing it down to the best place for me to go and compete for a spot, a place where they didn't have too many linebackers," Motuapuaka said.

With six teams chasing him, he narrowed down his list to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams and Jaguars. It was a good position to be in, with all three teams potentially looking to replenish their stocks at linebacker.

"The Jaguars had a deal on the table, and I was content with it. It was a good place for me to go, so we made that move."

Motuapuaka reported to camp in Jacksonville this weekend for a three-day rookie minicamp signed to the Jaguars' 90-man roster. It is the first camp on his way to trying to earn a spot in the final 53-man roster for the season starting in September.

Motuapuaka has travelled a winding road to get to this point.

Born in the City of Sails, he moved to Tonga soon after, before relocating to California around the age of two. His father joined the military there and he spent time living across the country before moving to Germany.

While growing up, he played whatever football he could, including flag football and rugby in Germany. He continued to play rugby when he moved back to Auckland from Germany in 2009, but was back in Virginia on America's East Coast by August that year.

"It was definitely kind of hard as a young kid, just having to meet new people. I'd have friends for a couple of years, then have to leave them and make new ones all over again," he told the Herald on Sunday.

It wasn't an easy road but his return to Virginia saw him flourish on the American football pitch and earn a scholarship to Virginia Tech.

For Motuapuaka, his love of the game was simply that. It wasn't until closer to his senior year that he started focusing on the NFL dream.

"It's a big thing but I think it would have messed me up if I started thinking about it too early," he said.

"I was just trying to be the best I could be year after year. Teams saw that, and I'm blessed enough to have teams willing to give me the opportunity."

Motuapuaka reports in Jacksonville as one of a number of players auditioning for a job. That list included 12 other undrafted free agents, seven players picked in the draft and a host of tryout players.

The lack of depth in the Jaguars' linebacking corps leaves the door open for Motuapuaka to earn a spot, should he impress in the weeks ahead. Telvin Smith and Lerentee McCray, who have both played four seasons in the NFL, are the Jaguars' only two veterans in the position.

"I don't think anything is guaranteed right now, so I'm really going to try and show I belong out there and make the most of the opportunity," Motuapuaka said.

While going into camp undrafted makes his road to the NFL tougher, it's far from impossible.

The Jaguars roster last season included a number of former undrafted free agents, including McCray, who was undrafted in 2013.

No matter what the situation, a rookie wanting a spot in the league has to be willing to go into camp to battle for it. Motuapuaka knew that, and planned to make sure he wasn't going to leave anything to chance.

"I trust in my ability. I know I can play at this level, I'm just glad I've got a shot. Some people never thought I could be in the position I am right now, and it's kind of been like that my whole life — fighting for respect and really just grinding for what I wanted.

"This plays into my hand. This is what I love doing — going and proving myself."