Ex-rugby star Wade scores TD in Bills debut

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills running back Christian Wade, an England native and former rugby star who was allocated to the Bills via the NFL's International Player Pathway Program, made a splash in his NFL debut.

Wade scored a 65-yard touchdown on his first and only carry in the Bills' 24-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts in Thursday's preseason opener.

With just over nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Wade took a handoff from third-string quarterback Tyree Jackson, cut right through a gaping hole at the line of scrimmage and sprinted untouched into the end zone. After meticulously running the play in practice, Wade said he felt prepared if his number was called.

"I knew where I was going even before the ball came because they overloaded one side ... then as soon as I got the ball," Wade said after the game, pausing to smile as he recounted the play, "I was off to the races. I was looking up at the screen to see if any of the linebackers or anyone was coming up behind me."

Wade, 28, played 10 years of professional rugby before retiring to begin an NFL career in 2018. Despite his instant on-field success, Wade called his transition to American football "challenging."

Wade said he was used to his protective shoulder pads by the time he put them on at training camp. He trained with them on after being allocated to the Bills "so that it wouldn't be foreign" once camp began.

It worked, for the most part, but the helmet will take getting used to.

"Once you're in there playing and running around, you don't really notice it," Wade said. "I think the helmet was the only thing that was a bit weird just because it's quite heavy. I wasn't used to wearing that, so when I first put it on I felt like one of those bobbleheads."

Some of his teammates, such as running back Frank Gore, have played the game for the majority of their lives -- or in Gore's case, since he was 4 years old.

That's the level Wade feels he's at three weeks into his NFL career.

"I'm 4 right now," he said. "I'm playing this game and basically 4 years old playing with the best players in the world. You can't even imagine what it's like, what's going through my mind trying to be out here competing, and trying to take every rep that I get ... and execute my plays as best I can."

Wade stopped short of calling the touchdown validating -- "It's just one run," he said -- but agreed the experience was rewarding considering his steep learning curve.

"This is definitely one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life, in terms of studying and the mental stress and physical stress," he said. "It's definitely been very challenging for me, and I think moments like this kind of makes it all worth it. It just shows that if you do put the hard work in, good things do come."

His teammates and coaches have taken note of the aforementioned work he's put in. Gore said he's happy for the way Wade's career began; considering how players celebrated around Wade once he returned to the sideline, it's safe to say Gore isn't the only one who feels that way.

Bills coach Sean McDermott said he admires what Wade is trying to do, lauding the running back's work ethic and determination.

"It would be like any one of us going over to where he is from and trying to play the game that he grew up playing," McDermott said before Monday's practice. "I have greater appreciation for what he's trying to accomplish here, and the attitude hasn't changed -- and I mentioned this earlier in the process with his attitude, his energy, his smile. He has great joy and I think that's infectious. I think it affects our team, and I think it's for the better."

When asked about Wade's 40-yard dash time after the game, the third-year coach showed just how infectious the Brit has been.

"You'd probably have to use Big Ben for that."