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2020 Summer Olympics

NFL reject turned Pyeongchang bobsledder out to ride USA Sevens to Tokyo Olympics

After the heartache of being cut by the Patriots, 28-year-old Sam McGuffie soldiered on to become an Olympian and now has rugby in his sights

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 April, 2018, 7:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 April, 2018, 10:52pm

A stint on the practise squad of one of the NFL’s most successful teams and a 10th place in the bobsleigh at this year’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics would be enough for most to hang their hat on, but not Sam McGuffie.

After the disappointment of getting cut by the New England Patriots before playing a game, despite signing a three-year contract, McGuffie soldiered on and became an Olympian.

Now, he hopes rugby sevens is his ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games, just like it was for Patriots special teamer Nate Ebner in 2016.

In Hong Kong for this month’s HKFC Tens, McGuffie is beginning his third coming as an athlete with Tiger Rugby, who played at the Tens and were the breeding ground for USA sevens superstar Perry Baker, among others.

He spent three months with them in 2016 during his bobsleigh training but is now fully committed to forcing his way on to one of the most exciting sevens teams in the world, of which coach Mike Friday is forever hoping to sell as a destination for what the Americans call “crossover athletes”.

“I’d like to see how far I can take it, I don’t have all the nuances and skills yet but I can run the ball pretty well – in my opinion,” says the 28-year-old, who was kept from playing in the Tens by a knee injury.

“It’s really cool to see Perry Baker and Carlin Isles doing their thing. They come from backgrounds like me – football backgrounds – and they are just natural athletes and they take off on the pitch.”

This is certainly no gimmick despite McGuffie’s age – Baker was 27 when Tiger Rugby got their hands on him – and programme founder James Walker is not backward in coming forward.

“I can tell you we wouldn’t waste our time with him if we didn’t think he could make it all the way to the very highest level,” he says.

“I’ve got all confidence that he can play sevens for the USA and potentially even 15s, but he’s got a lot to learn.”

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It’s been a long and winding road for McGuffie – he was also on the practise squads at the Oakland Raiders and the Arizona Cardinals – and he exudes a resilience that makes it clear he won’t give up on his latest endeavour lightly.

“When I was cut by the Patriots, it was a big surprise to me. I was getting player of the week every week in practise and it was right after I signed a three-year contract,” he says. “It was disappointing. They cut me in the summer when I wasn’t even there.”

Next was three years of intense bobsleigh training – “it’s harder than it looks, I try to tell people that” – in an attempt to follow in the footsteps of former NFL player Herschel Walker.

“A few other American football players did it and I think it translates well because it’s just speed, power and strength. It’s just all out for five seconds.”

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Despite his freakish speed and all round athletic ability, McGuffie now faces another gruelling transition.

“Sam has just got back from Pyeongchang and he is in bobsleigh shape. He’s carrying a lot more muscle, he’s probably about 10 kilos heavier than he would be otherwise,” Walker says.

“You have got a guy like Perry who was with us for 13 months in residency before he went to the national level and didn’t really know the game very well when he came in.

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“But he always had a knack for finding the try line and he always had a knack for creating his own space and I think Sam is kind of in that same mould.

“You have got positioning and natural instinctual play that needs to be worked on a little bit, but his acceleration is frightening and he’s powerful, too.”