Overlooking Leicester Square, Harry Mallinder reflects on his past and contemplates a new chapter in his sporting journey. On a brisk Monday morning in London, the former rugby player, now on the eighth floor of an office block, grapples with the intricacies of his latest pursuit.
In an alternate reality, Mallinder might have been leading Northampton’s ascent to the top of the Premiership table at Franklin’s Gardens or anticipating a call from Steve Borthwick for a Six Nations squad selection. There was a time when it seemed inevitable that he, the son of a coach possessing seemingly every attribute, was destined for international rugby glory.
A standout moment in 2016 saw Mallinder captain and propel England to victory at the U20 World Championship, recording two tries and 23 points in a final thrashing of Ireland. A year later, he found himself in Eddie Jones’s senior squad touring Argentina. Tall, muscular, agile, and versatile across positions 10, 12, or 15, Mallinder embodied the modern game’s ideal back.
Yet, rugby life is seldom straightforward. A serious knee injury in 2018 derailed Mallinder’s progress, followed by additional fitness setbacks that disrupted his smooth strides. Hopes for a career revival in Japan yielded no appearances during a two-year stint with the Ricoh Black Rams.
Now, a new challenge awaits. With a hopeful smile and determination, Mallinder reveals his latest venture – he’s joined the NFL’s International Player Pathway (IPP), following in the footsteps of Louis Rees-Zammit, who stepped away from Wales and the Six Nations to pursue American football.
Describing it as a “fantastic opportunity,” Mallinder is among the first specialists in the IPP, aiming to make a mark as a kicker or punter. He expresses his fascination with American football, acknowledging the long shot nature of the endeavor but emphasizing his commitment to turning it into a success.
Joining 15 other athletes from diverse sporting backgrounds, including Louis Rees-Zammit, Darragh Leader, George Smith, and Gaelic football stars, Mallinder begins training at the IMG Academy in Florida before showcasing his skills to NFL scouts at the Combine in March.
The inclusion of kicking and punting specialists adds an intriguing dimension. Mallinder, despite being more of a novice, appears well-prepared for the transition, driven by his lifelong love for kicking and thriving under pressure. At 27, he views this opportunity as a perfect balance, bringing youthful energy and elite performance exposure to his pursuit.
Mallinder acknowledges the challenges ahead, recognizing that success in the NFL is no guarantee. Only five IPP graduates have made it to an active NFL roster since the program’s inception in 2017. Undeterred, he approaches this new journey with optimism and determination, eager to prove himself on a different stage.
Reflecting on his rugby career, Mallinder expresses gratitude for the opportunities it provided but emphasizes his focus on the fresh opportunity at hand. He is mindful of the rarity of this chance and wholeheartedly committed to making his NFL dream a reality, leaving behind any thoughts of rugby and setting his sights firmly on the path ahead.