Daniel Faalele moved halfway around the world to play for one of America’s most prestigious high school football programs before he had ever watched a game.
The Australian native had scholarship offers at some of the top colleges in the country even before playing at IMG Academy in Florida.
It’s the kind of thing that happens when you’re over 6ft 8in and weigh over 400lbs at the age of 16 with fast feet developed on Melbourne’s basketball and rugby courts.
Faalele was spotted at a basketball camp by a University of Hawaii scout, who introduced the idea of trying football. Soon, Faalele was attending a satellite camp outside of Melbourne hosted by the University of Michigan football program. They put him in touch with IMG coaches in Florida and the 16-year-old made the decision with his mother to leave home and pursue a football career.
He first had to learn what things like first downs and yardage scorers were, as Faalele spent the first year in his new country learning the basics of the game. That encompassed his freshman year.
He played one season of high school football and then played four seasons in Minnesota.
Now, the offensive tackle prospect is waiting to find out where he will be selected in the NFL Draft this week. His unparalleled physical traits and rapid development make him one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft.
“I feel like the sky is the limit for me,” he told the combine. “I just need more coaching, and I feel like I’m going to the next level in the NFL, that’s it for me. I can’t wait to see how far I can go.
“Right now I would say being athletic for my size and being powerful are my best attributes. I feel like I’m very strong. Being a bigger body, I have longer arms, so I use those intangibles to my advantage.
The exact size of this body depends on the day. Faalele arrived at the Minneapolis campus at 426 pounds, but he weighed 384 at the combine. He thinks he’ll play his best in the NFL around 375 pounds.
“Every year I was able to lose more and more weight,” he said. “There were no issues with fluctuation too high or too low. I would just say be faster, have faster feet and, cardio-wise, be able to last longer in games and play at my best for a lot longer.
Losing weight wasn’t the only change at Faalele. He said some of his early reps at IMG were “ugly,” but his technique has improved by leaps and bounds.
The book on Faalele is that he possesses rare athleticism for his size, but doesn’t possess the kind of bad streak that coaches often want to see in an offensive lineman.
However, he understands how intimidating he can be on the pitch and likes to impose his will.
“Being able to dominate someone – legally – is really fun,” he said. “I always like to have pancakes and make someone’s day worse.”
He hopes to make a team better in the NFL. Faalele is proud of how far he has come and confident that he will continue his ascent to the next level.
“My teenager would be very impressed with how far I’ve come with my football IQ,” he said. “Coming in, I really didn’t know anything. Seeing how far I’ve come with this, how fast I can learn the playbook, how much my technique has improved, it shows how much I can improve.
Now that he’s more acclimated to football, he’s spent more time studying the players and their techniques. He pays particular attention to some of the biggest attacking tackles like Orlando Brown, Trent Williams and Tyron Smith.
He loves the way Brown uses his strength, Williams plays with Smith’s aggression and technical superiority and how he makes everything so easy.
Faalele hopes to follow in their massive footsteps. He rode mock draft boards and could go there as early as the second round.