It didn’t matter his new home was over 3,000 miles away. It didn’t matter he ranked third in career tries in England’s top rugby division. It didn’t matter it was a sport he never played before. Christian Wade had to give his NFL dream a shot.
“I gave up everything,” Wade said.
Wade is a former rugby wing known for his speed, acceleration and agility. In April, Wade was allocated to the Bills as a part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program which aims to provide elite international athletes the opportunity to compete at an NFL level.
Wade spent the past 10 years at Wasps Rugby Football Club. He played on England’s national team the British and Irish Lions.
“I reached a stage in my career where I felt like I kind of reached a point where it was just time for me to explore other options,” Wade said. “I was looking at going abroad in the southern hemisphere or throughout Europe but the opportunity with the NFL I couldn’t let go.”
When Wade is 50 years old he wants to be able to say he had the opportunity to play in the NFL and took it.
Yet when he took the chance, football was a sport he knew nothing of. He went to games in London as part of the NFL’s London Series and took some games in on TV but that was it.
Wade arrived at a camp in Florida in January without a guarantee he would be allocated to an NFL team. The camp was under the supervision of IMG Academy coaches and he trained alongside NFL veterans and draft hopefuls.
Wade didn’t want to go in completely unprepared and prepped by wearing a helmet and practicing a few handoffs.
“He has got a big challenge in front of himself. For me I try to put myself in his shoes,” said head coach Sean McDermott. “To never have played the game. You just imagine we are in the meeting room and you put up an offensive line. This is the ‘A’ gap, this is the ‘B’ gap and this is the ‘C’ gap, that is new for him. So things that a lot of our players have been around maybe since age 5 or 6. He’s now getting introduced for the first time to those concepts. He has got a long road to overhaul here, but I think he is up for the challenge.”
Wade’s path to the roster won’t be easy and it’s made more difficult with who’s in front of him on the depth chart. There are two potential Hall of Fame running backs with LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore, plus third-round pick Devin Singletary and veterans like T.J. Yeldon and Senorise Perry.
Wade has earned reps with the third-team taking handoffs from undrafted free agent Tyree Jackson throughout OTAs and minicamp. During minicamp, Wade was acting as the Bills’ No. 2 return man during kickoffs behind Andre Roberts.
While learning football, Wade has been most comfortable returning kicks and running toss plays. Both are skills he had to use in rugby.
The rugby ball and football are both oval and 11 inches long. The rugby ball has flatter ends while a football has ends that come to a point. The football also has larger and more visible laces. Wade has found the football easier to catch.
When Wade does take handoffs he finds himself bouncing his runs to the outside, a trait that comes natural to him. Without pads it’s tough for him to gauge the contact he would normally have. Taking runs up inside is what Wade will have to work on when training camp begins in a month.
“People underestimate the handoffs, for me sometimes I get it in the wrong hand or I’m looking at the ball instead of where I’m going to go, so it’s the little, small details that I have to tidy up,” Wade said.
As part of the player pathway program Wade is automatically eligible for a spot on the practice squad, but the 28-year-old first-time running back wants to play on Sundays.
“I’m trying to concentrate on learning as much as I can and soak up as much as I can,” Wade said. “I just put my best foot forward on every rep I get and if the coaches feel as though I can contribute to the team this year, then that’s obviously going to be something I’m pushing for.”