Daniel Adongo: The ever rising rugby star

Saturday August 3 2013

Chris Omollo | Nation New Zealand’s Manukau County loose forward Daniel Adongo during his work-out at the RFUEA ground in Nairobi at the weekend. Adongo will turn out for Port Elizabeth’s Southern Kings in South Africa’s Eastern Cape in Super Rugby.

Chris Omollo | Nation New Zealand’s Manukau County loose forward Daniel Adongo during his work-out at the RFUEA ground in Nairobi at the weekend. Adongo will turn out for Port Elizabeth’s Southern Kings in South Africa’s Eastern Cape in Super Rugby. 

By AYUMBA AYODI [email protected]

His father wasn’t amused when he shifted his gears from Rugby to the National Football League.

From his school days in Nairobi and London, Daniel Adongo’s father, Joseph Adongo, reckons that his son was forceful in getting what he wanted but also advocated for what was right.

“He always worked hard to get what he wanted and we noticed his talent when he was in nursery school,” said Joseph. “He was big and one couldn’t lift him up easily.”

It’s still debatable as to whether his move from rugby to the NFL will be a success. The former Counties Manukau and Southern Kings lock/flanker has signed a two-year contract with Indiana Colts Franchise.

Adongo, who played 11 matches for Manukau in their ITM Championship winning season last year before moving to Kings for the 2013 Super Rugby, has taken over the spot of tight end Wesley Saunders, who has been suspended for violating an NFL performance enhancing drugs policy.

Whether the 23-year-old will still play for Kenya 15s at next year’s qualifiers for the 2015 Rugby World Cup qualifiers remains a mystery.

Kenya 15s head coach Jerome Paarwater had disclosed that Adongo was willing to play for Kenya in the RWC qualifiers after arriving from Madagascar two weeks ago where his team won the Africa Cup.

As soon as Adongo landed, the US media was keen to know who the young lad from the land that is known for great runners like Kipchoge Keino and Paul Tergat.

It will be the first time Adongo is playing the game after only having watched few games on television. However, Colts general manager Ryan Grigson saw great potential in the 1.96m, 117kg Kenyan prospect.

Adongo seems to have settled down to business in his new venture as his team’s Indianapolis Colts website indicated that the player’s takes over at linebacker position in a two-year contract that will see him get US$ 405,000 (about Sh35.3 million) in the first year.

Adongo is among the lowest paid players in the professional league, getting a monthly average salary of Sh2.94 million. The highest paid player at Colts is another linebacker Robert Mathis, who has a four year contract that will see him take home an average salary of $9,000,000 (Sh783m) annually.

Adongo, who described his enrolment at Colts as a shock appreciates the opportunity that he has been given and promises to do the best he can for the team. “I will be starting from scratch but I am a quick learner, ready to put in hard yards,” said Adongo adding that he will bring loyalty, aggression and physicality to the team. “It will be baby steps for me but I will have to be patient but at the same time make progress. It’s just mental thing and I have to switch to it since it has similar positions to rugby.”

Adongo was contacted by the Colts three weeks ago and was keen to try out his luck in NFL.

“If you get an email from a team, you definitely know they’re not kidding,” said Adongo. “I was in South Africa. We started discussing a few things on email. We had emails here and there,” Adongo was quoted as saying on his new team’s website.

“When everything transpired, everything happened so quickly. I took everything in and signed on the dotted line.”

With that, Adongo changed from rugby to NFL football, from loose forward to outside linebacker, from his native land to the United States - where he never had been previously. “Being the person that I am, I went with my gut feeling,” said Adongo. “If something feels right, I’m not going to doubt myself. I’m going to go for it immediately. Rugby is always going to be big. This feels right to me.”

“Everything is going to be pretty new to me,” Adongo told a swarm of reporters at Colts training camp.

Adongo, who is the first Kenyan to play in world’s most famous rugby league, Super Rugby, is also the first Kenyan to feature in the NFL, even though not the first African.

Adongo joins five other Africans top join NFL this year. Others are Ziggy Ansah (Ghana, Detroit), Edmund Kugbila (Ghana, Carolina) and Stansly Maponga (Zimbabwe, Atlanta).

It’s going to be tough

According to calgaryherald.com, teammates are convinced Adongo will be a quick learner, though those who have made the transition from overseas star to American contributor know it won’t be easy.

“I was thinking back to when I came over for the first time to play high school football, and that was a big thing,” said Indy’s most recent first-round draft pick Bjoern Werner, who grew up in Germany. “Now he’s coming over, he’s here for two days and now he’s going to experience an NFL camp right away. That’s going to be tough, but he has teammates so hopefully everybody can help him out.”

However, Adongo is taking everything by stride. “Just take your steps and be patient,” Adongo said. “The biggest thing is to be patient with myself and allow myself to have a good learning curve and build myself up.”

While still at Strathmore School, Dan, who later joined Kenya Harlequin junior team, featured for his school at the 2006 Safari Sevens. It’s at the event where South African scouts recruited him and would join Natal Shark in 2007, to feature for the Under–19 to Under–21 level. His talent, determination and hard work saw him bludgeon through to Sharks side for the 2010 Vodacom Cup.

Even though he didn’t play for them, he was active with the Under-21 squad. 2011 came with much success to play 10 matches including his debut in the Vodacom Cup where they demolished Blue Blues 30–19. He failed to start at the 2011 Currie Cup even though he was drafted to the team.

Former Blue Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer, who is currently Springbok coach would recruit Dan at Blue Bulls at the end of 2011 and was to score three tries in his first match.

Meyer identified Adongo as a future Springbok, especially given his speed, size and explosive power but after the tacticians Dan was sidelined for Vodacom Cup despite scoring a hat-trick in his first game for the Loftus game.

Got game time

However, Dan would leave after only six months in June last year to join former All Black Tana Umaga’s Counties Manakau in New Zealand owing to frustration, lack of attention and game time at Blue Bulls. “No matter how much you earn”. “Playing at high level was the most important thing for me when I joined Bulls from Sharks six months ago but I felt I wasn’t getting that,” said Adongo, who played for East Africa select side, Elgon Warriors, against visiting England Counties in June last year.

Agfter his stint with Blue Bulls, Adongo returned to Kenya to captain the Elgon Warriors, a a conglomeration of Kenya and Uganda players, against the touring English Counties team. It’s at the two matches that were played in Mbale and Nairobi that Umaga, who was a spectator at the matches, immediately offered him a two year contract.

Dan was to play for Counties Manukau eight matches on their way to winning the 2012 ITM Cup Championship to get promoted to the Premiership. However, Dan was not named in the team for the 2013 ITM Cup.

However, Southern Kings, who made their debut in the 2012 Super Rugby League season, were to snatch Dan. That made him the first Kenyan to play in the largest and pre-eminent professional rugby union football competition in the Southern Hemisphere. He came in as a sub against his former side Shark and Chiefs before getting the start against Crusaders and Brumbies. He also played at Vodacom and Currie Cup before he tore his bicep to stay away from action.

The Vodacom Cup is an annual rugby union competition in South Africa that is the third most prestigious competition in the Rainbow nation, behind Super Rugby and the Currie Cup. It runs at roughly the same time as Super Rugby and serves as an important developmental competition for South African rugby.

Kenya has applied to South Africa Rugby Union to play in Vodacom Cup next year.