Naas Botha Reflects on Louis Rees-Zammit’s Bold Move to the NFL

In a recent exclusive interview with SportsBoom, former South African rugby player, turned Dallas Cowboys Kicker, Naas Botha shared his insights and thoughts on the ground-breaking decision by Wales star Louis Rees-Zammit to leave Rugby Union and pursue a career in the National Football League (NFL) in the United States.

Louis Hobbs
Louis Hobbs

Last Updated: 2024-01-17

Wade McElwain

5 minutes read

Naas Botha - Legendary Springbok

Who is Naas Botha?

Naas Botha, a prominent figure in South African rugby history, not only etched his name in
the annals of the sport but also left an indelible mark as the first South African to venture
into American football. Renowned as a skilled fly-half for the Springboks, Botha's
unexpected foray into the world of gridiron unfolded during a trial with the Dallas Cowboys
in early 1983.

Following a stellar career in rugby union, he announced his "final" appearance for Northern
Transvaal against Western Transvaal in March of that year, showcasing his prowess with a
remarkable 23-point contribution to a 35-3 victory. It was during this trial period that Botha,
with a flawless 100% kicking record (21/21), achieved the distinction of becoming the
inaugural South African to embrace American football.Naas Botha kicking for the New Englang Patriots in 1984

Despite reports of a three-year contract with the Texas-based club as their specialist goal-
kicker, Botha's dalliance with the NFL was ephemeral. Within three years, he made a
remarkable return to rugby union, donning the captain's armband for the Springboks in a
four-Test series against the rebel New Zealand Cavaliers. Botha's unique journey across two
diverse sporting realms embodies his versatility and the intriguing intersection of rugby and
American football in his illustrious career.

Taking this into consideration, SportsBoom had the opportunity to sit down with Botha,
delving into his remarkable odyssey to the NFL. During the conversation, we drew parallels
between Botha's journey and that of Welsh rugby sensation Louis Rees-Zammit, who has
recently been unveiled as the latest participant in the NFL International Pathway Program.

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If he thinks he’s a Running Back, somewhere along the line the Americans are going to tell him, you need to put on a couple of pounds

Naas Botha on Louis Rees-Zammit's move to NFL

Challenges and Adaptation

"The unfortunate thing is he doesn't now come through that four-year university college
cycle with building up a CV and all that, but I think he's more than good enough to actually
make it," Botha stated optimistically.

His acknowledgment of the absence of a four-year university college cycle in Louis Rees-
Zammit's transition to the NFL sheds light on the significance of the collegiate system within
American football. The college system not only serves as a crucial developmental ground for
aspiring players but also plays a pivotal role in shaping their skills, honing their
understanding of the game, and building a comprehensive curriculum vitae.

While Rees-Zammit's unconventional route may lack the traditional collegiate foundation,
Botha's optimism suggests that the Welsh star's innate skills and adaptability might
compensate for this deviation. Importantly, the high-pressure situations experienced by
Rees-Zammit in international rugby could potentially serve as a valuable asset, allowing him
to transfer this experience seamlessly to the demanding environment of the NFL.

“He's got the feet work, he's got the skill, he's got the running skills, he's got lovely hands.
He’s got all the attributes to succeed, but this where we’re making a big mistake trying to
compare rugby to American Football”, Botha added.

Words of Encouragement

When questioned about advice for Rees-Zammit, Botha commended the Welsh player's
decision to pursue his NFL dreams. He highlighted the importance of passion for the game,
stating, "You must love something if you want to do that." Botha expressed confidence in
Rees-Zammit's ability to adapt quickly, given his dedication and work ethic.

Botha went onto to compare the rigorous difference between the two sports, commenting:
“I arrived at the training camp, and they cut 11 guys on the first day because they're not
100% ready to start practicing the next day. Now where rugby, sometimes the guys come
back from an off season, and they sort of react for the first month of the new season and see
that's where American football is extremely professional, and I think he has all the qualities
to adapt very quickly to that mentality if I can put it that way.”louis-rees-zammit.webp

Naas Botha's first-hand experience at an NFL training camp sheds light on the demanding
and uncompromising nature of professional football in comparison to rugby. His observation
of 11 players being cut on the very first day underscores the high stakes and rigorous
standards set by the NFL. Unlike rugby, where players may have a period of adjustment at
the beginning of a new season, American football demands an unparalleled level of
readiness from day one. The swift decision to cut players not deemed 100% prepared
exemplifies the unforgiving and competitive environment of the NFL.

Hope for Success and the Need for a Mental Shift

“We've seen him beat a one-on-one defender very easily. The difference is and see that's the
thing what people sometimes must in rugby you get tackled when you have the ball. Okay,
so you prepare yourself for a big hit in American football, you get hit without the ball”, the
South African added.

In expressing his hope for Louis Rees-Zammit's success in the NFL, Naas Botha aptly
highlights a critical aspect of the mental shift required in transitioning from rugby to
American football. Botha commends Rees-Zammit's ability to effortlessly outmanoeuvre
one-on-one defenders, a skill that undoubtedly adds value to his potential in the NFL.
However, Botha astutely points out a fundamental difference between the two sports,
emphasizing the necessity for a complete mental shift.

In rugby, the physicality is inherent to ball possession, with players bracing themselves for
impactful tackles when in control of the ball. The NFL, on the other hand, demands a
heightened awareness, where players may find themselves subjected to significant hits
without direct ball involvement. Botha's insight suggests that while Rees-Zammit possesses
the skills essential for success, adapting to the distinct nuances of American football will
require not only physical prowess but a comprehensive mental recalibration. The hope for
Rees-Zammit's triumph lies not just in his athleticism but in his ability to navigate and
embrace the distinctive challenges that the NFL presents, underlining the necessity of a
holistic transformation in approach and mindset.

The Future Awaits

As the interview concluded, Botha expressed eagerness to follow Rees-Zammit's journey
into the NFL. He recognised the unique qualities Rees-Zammit brings from rugby but
acknowledged the distinct challenges of American football.

"It's going to be fantastic to just follow his path and to see how it goes," Botha remarked.
The rugby legend wished Rees-Zammit the best on this new adventure, signalling the
broader anticipation within the sports community for the outcome of this unprecedented
move from rugby to American football.

Louis Hobbs
Louis HobbsLead Journalist

Meet Louis Hobbs, our esteemed authority on all matters sports-related. With a wealth of knowledge and experience, Louis effortlessly emerges as our go-to expert. His particular expertise in the realms of darts and snooker sets him apart and brings a level of insight that goes beyond the ordinary. Louis also holds a deep affection for all things related to US sports, with a special emphasis on basketball and American football, which stand out as his particular favorites. His content may not resonate with you, if you don't consider Lamar Jackson the most skilled player in the NFL.