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Rugby player trying to make it in NFL

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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Jarryd Hayne (38) of the San Francisco 49ers speaks to the media following 23-6 NFL preseason win against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA, August 23, 2015 (Credit: Icon Sportswire/Roy K. Miller)

{source}<iframe style=”float: left; border: 1px solid #000000; background-color: #c0c0c0; padding: 2px; margin: 10px; -moz-border-radius: 3px; -khtml-border-radius: 3px; -webkit-border-radius: 3px; border-radius: 3px;” width=”400″ height=”225″ src=”http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid2546892348001?bctid=4440568580001&width=400&height=225″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>{/source}Jarryd Hayne, former rugby star in Australia, is attempting the near-impossible sports fear: crossing over from one professional sport to another. Crossover athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders are rare in an increasingly specialized sports culture. Jackson and Sanders made the leap between football and baseball, but their success stands in stark contrast to countless others who have tried and failed.

Michael Jordan famously retired from basketball in the prime of his career in order to pursue baseball, but besides the occasional flash of brilliance, Jordan was a mediocre player overall. More recently, Jameis Winston and Russell Wilson have flirted with professional baseball careers, but have not ventured as far as to try to crossover completely.

Hayne’s attempt is noteworthy because of his success in rugby. Winning the equivalent of the MVP trophy twice in his illustrious career, Hayne is no mediocre player trying to crossover simply to find greener pastures. He walked away from millions of dollars to sign a minimum deal with the San Francisco 49ers that is contingent on him making the team this fall.

In a short interview with Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, Hayne shares why he is making the jump from the NRL (National Rugby League) to the NFL. Behind his laid-back Aussie accent is an intensity and passion that back up his statements. He makes it clear to King that his Christian faith is one of the reasons he is attempting the feat. Framing his attempt in terms of meeting new challenges, Hayne tells King that challenges are the stuff of life, and that Hayne wants to give this particular challenge his best “crack”.

Hayne has quickly caught the attention of fellow players and the national media with his performance in the first few 49ers preseason games. His teammates rave about his work ethic and desire to learn, while players from other teams have noticed his quickness, agility, and speed on the field.

Crossing over in sports is difficult for a variety of reasons. The most notable are the mental and physical adjustments that have to be made. While rugby and football are comparable in their physicality, each sport emphasizes different types of physicality. Rugby and football also have different schematic styles on offense and defense. Physical and mental adjustments from one game to the other are onerous enough, but there are other adjustments to make as well.

Consider the cultural adjustments that have to be made. Hayne is an Aussie, and has only recently come to the States, so he is still learning how to adjust to living in America. But beyond even the visceral cultural differences of one country to another, there is the more unobserved adjustment of coming to terms with the unique culture of the NFL. While it’s an easy temptation to only think of players in terms of their athletic ability and performance, the truth is that they are still humans that need to gel with those they work with in order to make the best possible transition.

Hayne, so far, has seemed to fit in well with his teammates and other NFL players because of his work ethic and mentality. There is also a general reverence for rugby players, whose sport is played without pads, that permeates the NFL culture, because they understand the punishment that both sports put on athletes’ bodies.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Hayne’s interview with King is the way he talked about how he was approaching his crossover attempt. He seemed fully aware that he might not succeed, but that more important than simply the bottom-line result was how he faced the challenge itself. His comments reminded me of how important it is to face the challenges of life, both ones that we choose to face as well as those that come at us unexpectedly, with the right spirit.

It’s not about positivism or easy-believism. Hayne may not make it in the NFL. It’s also not simply about conquering your challenges. It’s about opening yourself up to the process that is involved with the challenges and opening yourself up to the lessons that will come your way.