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NFL's Lions dip into Rugby Sevens for backup

  |  December 27, 2013

Carlin Isles of the U.S. (R) is blocked by France's Vincent Inigo during their preliminary match at the Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament in Hong Kong March 23, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (CHINA) *** Local Caption *** HKG02_HONGKONG_0323_11.JPG
BOBBY YIP
Carlin Isles of the U.S. (R) is blocked by France's Vincent Inigo during their preliminary match at the Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament in Hong Kong March 23, 2013.  REUTERS/Bobby Yip  (CHINA) *** Local Caption ***  HKG02_HONGKONG_0323_11.JPG

Maybe turning rugby players into American footballers is becoming a trend.

After the Colts put former Kenyan rugby union player Daniel Adongo who had played in South Africa and New Zealand's top domestic rugby leagues on their active roster, now the Detroit Lions have turned to rugby for talent.

Detroit signed US sevens star Carlin Isles to their practice squad on Thursday. The former sprinter who at one time was ranked 36th in the United States and dreamed of representing America at the Olympics has been known as 'the fastest man in rugby'.

Isles leaves behind a USA side that have struggled this year in the HSBC Sevens World Series, with just nine points from three events leaving them 14th out of the 16 regular competing nations.

In November at Dubai Sevens, the Americans failed to win a game.

Agence France-Presse has the full story on Isles' foray into the NFL:

"Carlin Isles, a 24-year-old US sevens winger touted as the fastest man in rugby, was signed to a practice squad receiver contract Thursday by the NFL's Detroit Lions. The Lions, eliminated from American football playoff contention last Sunday, have been known for unusual moves in trying to land talent, bringing in a German player last year and Norwegian kicker Havard Rugland earlier this year after seeing him on a YouTube video.

Isles, dubbed the fastest man in rugby by Rugby magazine last year, underwent a tryout session for the Lions on Monday that included running the 40-yard dash in 4.22 seconds.

A spot opened for Isles after the Lions promoted tight end Matt Veldman from the practice squad to the active roster to replace injured Brandon Pettigrew ahead of Detroit's season-ending game Sunday at Minnesota.

"You're looking for athletes," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "It hasn't been unusual to see basketball players transition to the NFL. That's not just recently, that goes way back.

"Even track guys like Bob Hayes and Renaldo Nehemiah. An athlete's an athlete. There are skills that you can develop, and if you see something you like then you can work with him."

Isles, whose Ohio hometown of Massillon is a famed US high school gridiron hotbed and near the American Football Hall of Fame, was a sprint star and American football player in college before switching to rugby.

He plays for the Gentlemen of Aspen club team and has 11 caps for the USA Rugby Sevens squad.

Other NFL clubs have turned outside the usual US collegiate feeder system for talent this year.

Kenyan-born Daniel Adongo has played two games at linebacker this season for the playoff-bound Indianapolis Colts after playing for South Africa's Southern Kings in Super 15 rubgy last season.

And the San Francisco 49ers have signed England's Lawrence Okoye, an Olympic shot put finalist in London, as a defensive end. He is on injured reserve for the playoff-bound club after a pre-season injury."