Adam Zaruba is putting his pro football dreams on hold.
After attending the Philadelphia Eagles training camp the past two years, the 27-year-old native of North Vancouver, B.C., has shelved his football aspirations to focus on rugby. The six-foot-five, 265-pound Zaruba’s top priority is helping Canada’s sevens squad qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games.
“The thing is the sevens team had my back when I decided to switch over to the NFL,” Zaruba said in a telephone interview. “I did my absolute best and unfortunately it didn’t work out so I figured it’s my turn to give it back to the sevens boys and try to make a push.
“Many of us didn’t qualify (for ‘16 Olympics) and it’s something we all want to do and dreamed of doing. It’s not so much for me about rugby versus football. As an athlete I really wanted to just be able to put both feet into one camp and start excelling in one sport because it’s hard to be divided like that.”
That means Zaruba won’t be in a position to re-assess his athletic future until 2020.
“By the time we go to the Olympics I think I’ll have had enough of sevens,” he said. “I’ll have been doing it for seven years … it will be a good opportunity for me to reassess my athletic career and where I want to see myself finishing it off.”
Playing pro rugby in Europe might be an option but so too could be playing in the CFL. Last September, Zaruba spoke with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who has his Canadian rights, about finishing the ‘18 season on their practice roster before deciding to return to rugby.
“I had to make a choice if I wanted to play in the CFL or go to the Olympics,” Zaruba said. “I spoke with Jeremy (Riders’ GM Jeremy O’Day) because he was curious about where my head was at and what I was interested in doing.
“I explained it to him and he understood. I’m very appreciative of my football experience and I haven’t closed any doors on football. Obviously I’m never going to turn down an opportunity in the NFL … but I’m not 100 per cent sure if any NFL teams will want to take a chance on a 29-year-old. I think if football is in my future, it probably will be in the CFL.”
Although Zaruba’s last actual football game was in high school, the Eagles twice signed him as a tight end. Zaruba originally joined Philadelphia three days prior to the start of camp in 2017, lasting until Sept. 1 before being released.
He re-signed with Philadelphia in January 2018 but was let go Aug. 11 after suffering a hamstring injury that prevented him from seeing any pre-season action. Subsequently, Zaruba had no NFL practice-roster offers to ponder upon completing his rehab.
After high school, Zaruba was involved in Simon Fraser’s football program but never played a game. However, he’s an anomaly in the sevens game, a big man with brute strength and speed — Zaruba posted a time of 4.49 seconds in a 40-yard dash for Philadelphia.
Zaruba’s freakish athletic ability was on full display in 2016 when he soared high to make a stunning one-handed grab off a Canadian restart against Wales, then trotted in for the try at the Paris Sevens.
Fox Sports in Australia called it “one of the most remarkable catches in sevens history.” Sky Sports described it as “stunning.” Wales Online asked “Is this the greatest piece of skill ever seen on the rugby field?”
Zaruba says his football preparation has translated well to the rugby pitch and help make for a seamless transition.
“My coaches say my lateral movement has gotten quite better since I was on the team last and I’m more explosive,” Zaruba said. “Sevens fitness is a whole other beast so I’m still cracking the whip on that.
“But I got to be part of a special group of players (in Philadelphia) and see how they worked every day. Athletically I think I’ve gone nowhere but up.”
Zaruba has no regrets about trying to crack a competitive Eagles squad that won the ‘17 Super Bowl.
“When I started this process the Eagles were one of the few teams that actually expressed interest in me,” he said. “When I first got involved, they weren’t the defending Super Bowl champion but then they were and still were interested.
“If I’m going to have to develop and learn, I want to learn from the best and be around that environment. It was a no-brainer for me.”
Overall, Zaruba says he’s in a good place mentally.
“It’s just nice to have a solid sense of direction,” he said. “Being an undrafted guy in the NFL, you never really know and have to kind of grind for every inch.
“I appreciated that part of it but being able to commit, make a decision, go for it and put my heart and soul into it is liberating. I’m really looking forward to making a push to get this squad to the Olympics.”