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Irish kicking quartet aim to impress NFL pro day scouts


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Four Irish athletes, including three leading GAA players, will today take to the field for further trials in front of NFL scouts.

The try-outs are part of the University of South Florida’s NFL pro day. The Irish quartet, made up of Rory Beggan, Charlie Smyth, Mark Jackson and Darragh Leader, are all part of the NFL’s 15-strong IPP (International Player Pathway) Class of 2024.

After successfully performing at a recent combine in Indianapolis, this is another chance for them to showcase their kicking and punting skills. The IPP program offers elite international athletes a chance to earn a spot on an NFL roster.

The program started in 2017 and since then 37 graduates have agreed contracts with NFL teams, with five of those playing in the top-flight.

This year’s IPP program features 11 athletes from around the world, hailing from various sporting backgrounds including rugby, basketball, track, Gaelic football and Australian football, among others.

Welsh rugby star Louis Rees-Zammit is the marquee name trying out today – but the Irish athletes have impressed many scouts since their induction into the program.

After today’s camp ends, the IPP athletes will be eligible to fill a 17th practice squad roster spot across any of the 32 teams — an additional spot reserved for an international player.

Wicklow’s Mark Jackson will be looking to catch the eye of NFL scouts

In the past fortnight, three of the four Irish players – Beggan, Smyth and Leader – signed with the US-based ProStar sports agency.

“Today is another big day kicking in front of all the teams,” explains Tadhg Leader, founder of Leader Kicking whose coaching academy has brought the Irish athletes to the attention of American football scouts and recruiters.

“What makes it a big day is that all the international players will be showcasing their talents.

“The last trial saw the kickers and punters do their thing in Indianapolis, but today the other ten IPP players are out in action after being kept behind closed doors last time.

“And NFL teams will not make any moves until they see what all 15 players can do. After today, the 32 NFL teams will know exactly who is in the IPP class of 2024 and what positions they prioritise.

“From there it will intensify. There will be visits to clubs, workouts, meetings, medicals. All of that should pick up once the teams know who they want. That’s essentially the next step.”

Leader reports that all the Irish players are in a good spot.

“Patience is the key now,” he says, “People back home think the boys will go and kick and get signed straight away but that’s not it. No one knows what the other IPP guys will do until today.

“All we can do is put our best foot forward and wait for teams to go after the guys they want. It’s another chance to perform in front of teams and the lads are striking the ball well. They are happy and feeling confident and I am very optimistic that the guys impressed in Indianapolis and now we have the chance to reaffirm those positive thoughts that teams have of our lads.

“The NFL draft takes place then in April so teams are looking at all of their options. There is a long road ahead. We can just control what we are doing – putting the ball over the bar or punting the ball down the field. From there it will be into the hands of teams and agents.”

The Irish athletes are regarded as free agents and can be approached by any NFL team, with the new season starting in September.

They could join a team’s active roster or spend the season with their practice squad, enabling them to learn more about the game and their roles.

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