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Falcons sign England rugby star Alex Gray as part of NFL international program

Posted May 25, 2017

The Falcons signed a tight end on Thursday. Oh, and he’s from England.

The Falcons announced that they have signed a tight end on Thursday morning.

Oh, and he’s from England.

Alex Gray, 26, signed with the Falcons and is among four international players added to practice squads for the 2017 season, according to a statement released by the NFL on Thursday. All four players are part of a new International Player Pathway program and join teams in the NFC South.

The three other players are Alex Jenkins (New Orleans Saints), Eric Nzeocha (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and defensive end Efe Obada (Carolina Panthers), who was originally signed by the Dallas Cowboys in 2015. Nzeocha is from Germany while the other three are from England.

“I have been working hard for this goal and to be told it was going to happen was an amazing moment,” said Gray, who is listed as a tight end.

Gray was named in the original extended Great Britain Sevens squad for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio before suffering an injury and had more recently signed for Yorkshire Carnegie for the 2016-17 rugby season, is heading to Flowery Branch.

The Falcons, Buccaneers, Panthers and Saints will each be given an exemption for an eleventh practice squad member – ineligible to be activated during the season. The NFC South was chosen to receive the international players in a random draw.

“This is the start of another journey,” Gray said. “It is a fantastic thing that is happening, but I am not going to get to where I want to be without keeping myself grounded. Making the decision to give this my all from rugby, there was a big transition period and it was mentally very humbling. When you have to start from scratch again, that was a huge mental battle for me. When I look back I will be very proud of the way I approached this.”

Gray was born and raised in Bishop Auckland, England. He captained England’s rugby teams to Grand Slams at the under-16 and under-18 level and played for the Newcastle Falcons and London Irish at senior level.

The four players have been training alongside NFL players and draft hopefuls in Florida under the supervision of two-time Super Bowl winner Osi Umenyiora and NFLUK head of football development, Aden Durde, for the past three months.

“This is going to change people’s lives,” said Umenyiora. “They have a great opportunity. They are going to be seen not only by their new teams but by everyone who might imagine they can be NFL players. They will inspire people around the globe; people who never thought they had a chance to make it to the NFL. Now see they have a viable pathway. These guys have worked very hard for this chance and I am confident they will make a great contribution to their teams while improving their skills and understanding of the game.”

More on the other three players:

Alex Jenkins, 24, defensive end for the New Orleans Saints

  • Born and raised in Bath, England, he began playing football at the Bath City Academy and for the Bristol Aztecs, earning a spot on the Great Britain youth team. Having been selected to participate in an all-star high school camp in Virginia, he earned a scholarship to play college football at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. He was a three-year starter as defensive end at UIW, posting 3.5 sacks in his senior year.

Eric Nzeocha, 24, linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Nzeocha began playing football for the Franken Knights youth team in Neusitz, Germany, and was selected for the German national junior team. Played three years at the University of Wyoming, switching from tight end to linebacker before the 2015 season. His brother, Mark, is a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys.

Efe Obada, 25, defensive end for the Carolina Panthers

  • Raised in London after arriving from the Netherlands aged 10, Obada signed as a free agent for the Dallas Cowboys in 2015 after playing only five games of amateur football with the London Warriors. Played in preseason for the Cowboys and spent part of the 2015 season on the club’s practice squad. Has since had spells on the rosters of the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons.