NFL Rookie Matt Leo Began Career as an Adelaide Plumber
Matt Leo was six months shy of completing his apprenticeship to become an Adelaide Plumber when he experienced a life changing moment. It was tools down for the now 28-year-old who decided to chase his dream of a career in the NFL.
Leo, the defensive end, is currently part of the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad having moved on from Iowa State after being drafted through the NFL’s International Player Pathway program. But as you can guess, his previous life in Australia was vastly different.
The Rugby League enthusiast did it all as a tradesman, from clearing blocked drains to installing hot water systems. However, he had grand ambitions for quite some time.
Early in his apprenticeship, Leo watched Super Bowl XLVII during a lunch break and became enamoured with American Football. That particular game of Baltimore vs San Francisco became entrenched in his memory, and it was what spurred him on his path to playing professional football.
A confined spaces ticket just wasn’t practical for the young tradie who stood at a whopping six foot, seven inches tall (201cm) and weighed 125kg. Leo finally reached breaking point in 2014, banging his head on a bracket one 43 degrees summer day while working on a bridge spanning Adelaide’s River Torrens.
Leo turned to his colleague and said: “I’m too big to be doing this…I should still be playing sports,” reports ESPN.
Leo eventually quit his job and started working towards his dream of American Football.
Iowa State to Philadelphia Eagles
Leo began eight months of training which included a boot camp in Sydney operated by former Australian NFL offensive tackle turned trainer Paul Manera.
Tapes of his training sessions were sent to college teams with Arizona Western taking notice of the plumber’s apprentice. Leo then moved to Arizona, and it wasn’t long before he was recruited for Iowa State as part of the division one college football team. For several years, he played here, gaining experience, all while dealing with injury and family tension back home.
In 2020, Leo took part in the NFL’s International Player Pathway program, where he became one of four international athletes picked from the nine participants.
Matt Leo joined the Eagles in the same year and felt right at home joining the two other Aussie players in the squad. Six years after first deciding to chase his dream, he had finally made the big leagues.
Matt knuckled down and worked hard while the US struggled with racial and political tension and he trained on a family farm during the early stages of COVID-19. Unfortunately, he didn’t come out the other end unscathed.
Leo didn’t make the pre-season 53 man Eagles squad, receiving a position on the practice squad instead. He is yet to participate in any NFL games for the team.
He told the Wide World of Sports that he’s determined to do what it takes to earn a position on the team and to participate in his first game.
“I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt,” Leo said.
“That has given me that fire in my belly to go out and bust my tail to make sure that even next season, that I’m not in that situation – that I’m making that 53-man roster.”
National Rugby League players Jarryd Hayne and Valentine Holmes both had short lived and mostly unsuccessful careers playing in the NFL before returning to Australia.
But Leo is used to hard work and overcoming the odds. How else would you describe digging to lay pipe as a plumber, or crawling under houses and being soaked with waste?
More than a Defensive End
It’s too early to rule out the once apprentice but Matt admits that his former life continues to beckon. He told Wide World of Sports that his Eagles squad don’t hesitate to get in touch when they could use a plumber’s touch.
“My coach during camp, we’d just finished virtual meetings, and he had a pipe in his basement explode,” Leo explained.
“He called me saying, ‘What do I do, what do I do?”
“Then Fletcher Cox had a hot water unit go out, and I was going to go over and do it.”
There’s no denying that plumbers are a highly sought after trade – one that friends and family love to take advantage of whenever possible.
If Matt Leo’s dream of becoming a footballer never quite reaches its full potential, he always has a rewarding career as a tradie waiting for him back home.
It might be a step down from a professional athlete, but he will surely have the best stories to tell in the crib hut during smoko.
Published: 21 Oct, 2020