Eagles' tough love helping Jordan Mailata thrive in Philadelphia

Philadelphia's Jordan Mailata is proud of his past, the unique path he's traveled and the people he represents. But the Eagles' new starting left tackle is also keen to put some distance between himself and one aspect of his background: rugby league.

"It was just an identity thing for me. I know deep down inside that I'll never forget my rugby league life," he told Australian media ahead of the NFL's opening week.

But for Mailata, who was a member of South Sydney's under 20's team before switching codes, it's about being analysed, criticised and commended for the sport he plays today, and being measured to the same standards as the rest of his teammates.

"I want people to hold me accountable because I'm not good enough to apply the technique, and not because they give me the benefit of the doubt," Mailata continued.

"Oh, he's a rugby player, he doesn't really know what he's doing.

"I honestly believe I know the job, and I can do the job. I have great coaches who are the reason why I'm here this day. They hold me accountable all the time, teach me the right techniques, the right plays.

"But it's up to me to go out there and handle my business, that's why I want to scrub that rugby league past. For me it's just an identity thing - who I want to be as a player here in the United States.

"I just want to be seen as a football player, and not the boy from the Bankstown Bulls."

The weight of beating out 2019 first round pick Andre Dillard in training camp and earning a starting spot isn't lost on the 6"8' graduate of the NFL's International Player Pathway Program. The confidence and faith the Eagles have shown in him only adds to his own belief, and his measured approach ensures his focus doesn't waiver.

"The feeling hasn't really sunk in, because for me I had to adopt a certain way of life to get to the stage that I'm at," Mailata said.

"Every year I have the same benchmarks. Make the 53-man roster first.

"The whole mantra of getting one percent better each day has always been my focus, and that's the only way of life I know, because of my offensive line coach, Jeff Stoutland. If it wasn't for him I truly wouldn't be here, and because I've trusted him this far I'm not going to stray away.

"It's addictive, once you do something right and you know what that feeling is, you want to keep doing it over and over again."

He concedes that to the media he might sound like a "broken record", but that repetitiveness is a theme for the once-raw seventh round pick.

"Being consistent, because the biggest thing about the NFL is trying to be consistent for a long time, it's going to be the hardest thing a player can do," Mailata said.

"I don't really set benchmarks like Pro Bowls. I'm here to win a championship, I will say that. I'm going to work every day to win a championship for this city and this team."

Stressing the importance of his daily "process" would ring a little familiar to Philadelphia sports fans, and the more you hear the 24-year-old talk it's clear he puts a high price on consistent commitment.

That extends off the field, where his now-infamous singing talents have repeatedly made social media waves; he remains rock-solid on his artist of choice when he picks up the mic.

"Chris Stapleton is the go-to karaoke right there, mate."

But to get to the point of being a soulfully-voiced starter, and apparent heir to All-Decade left tackle Jason Peters, Mailata had to conquer the hurdle most often brought up for cross-sport converts - the playbook.

"The first time I saw a playbook I nearly fainted," Mailata said.

"It's like a hundred-sided Rubik's cube. It's kind of just figuring out the ins and outs, the patterns. Once you figure out the patterns on a Rubik's cube, you kind of just stick with it.

"It's the same thing with the playbook. Just understanding schemes, what schemes fit with each other, understanding the whole goal, where the ball is run, which gap... the more times you go over it, the more times you install it, the more times you run it during practice, it just kind of adds up."

But preparing like a starter will only get you so ready for when the opportunity arrives, and with injuries causing an opening at left tackle in 2020, those 10 starts allowed Mailata to put his growing understanding into practice with live snaps.

"Towards the end of 2020, after the first couple of starts, gameday really started to slow down," Mailata explained. "It was much easier for me to just focus on the plays and not be nervous or anxious.

"Then it all just became about my preparation. How did I prepare during that week? Did I practice fast enough? Did I practice hard enough? Did I lift in the gym hard enough?

"People worry about who they're playing against, what they're going to see, what type of moves they're going to get. For me I broke it down by process of elimination. The first thing I worry about is me, the last thing I worry about is me. If I can take care of my job.

"The more experience that I got, each snap I played, the game was getting slower and slower."

In a disappointing 4-11-1 season for the Eagles, Mailata's emergence on the edge of the offensive line was one of only a few bright spots. And the Australian points to his positional coach, Jeff Stoutland, as the driving force behind his impressive play out of the gate.

"He's been extremely patient; I'll tell you that. I owe everything to him," Mailata said of Stoutland. "He gives 120% of himself every day, and that's just who coach Stout is. It's not just to me, it's to everybody on the o-line. He just has so much heart for the game and so much heart for his players. He just wants you to succeed, and all he asks of you is to meet him halfway.

"He means the world to me. He's like my Dad here. The exact same way that I was raised up by my real dad, is the exact same way he's teaching me how to play football. It's tough love.

"We have a funny relationship, but deep down inside when he's cussing me out and calling me all types of names, I know he loves me, and I just have to find my way through the insults.

"I'm just grateful that I can have somebody like coach Stout in my life, because without him I wouldn't know anything, to be honest."

Drawing back to his family at home in Australia, the towering young man on the precipice of a career breakout laments that they haven't been able to join him in Philadelphia to see the fruits of four years' work, in the city he represents.

But in that "tough love" of coach Stoutland, and the work ethic he drives to match it with, Mailata feels the value of all that his family has given him.

"My mum, especially growing up, she worked full-time, six days a week, probably like 12 hours a day," Mailata explained. "My dad was a handyman, he worked two jobs; the bloke could fix anything."

"I don't know how he did it, the guy came straight from Samoa, and this guy knew how to fix everything: the car, the toilet, he even did gardening and planted trees... for me it was inspiring as a kid."

Growing up in Sydney's Western Suburbs, Mailata often wondered if the stern words he earned at home were par for the course, only to head to school and get assurance from friends within the Polynesian community.

"It's a Samoan thing, a Polynesian thing. It's that tough love," Mailata said.

"It was the environment that us Polynesians grew up in and it's what I was used to. Without them I wouldn't be anywhere, it's all because of them, putting a roof over our heads, making sure we had food to eat."

Though following a different path to Mailata, there are a growing number of talented athletes representing both Australia and the Polynesian community making the jump to American football, including Texas A&M's Jordan Spasojevic-Moko, Minnesota's hulking right tackle Daniel Faalele and Utah Ute Luke Felix-Fualalo.

To those and other young Polynesian athletes considering heading down a similar trail, Mailata's message is simple: do it.

"If you really want to put all your eggs in a basket, do it, don't look back. For me there was no Plan B, it was always Plan A," he said.

"I didn't want to fail my parents. It's a pride thing, being Polynesian, representing that last name on your back, especially when your dad comes from a small village.

"I didn't want to fail my dad, didn't want to fail my last name and my family."

The Eagles blindside protector repeats a line he's shared before about not dipping your toes into the water, but instead that you need to dive in, submerge yourself and learn how to swim. But admits he's added a few tools to help him stay above water.

"This time I'm going in with floaties, mate," Mailata quipped. "I'm not drowning any more, I actually have some tools in my bag to help stay afloat this time. Just making sure those floaties don't get popped."

With Mailata's agents confirming that the Eagles have offered him a four-year, $64 million extension, the 233rd pick in the 2018 draft will hope he continues to thrive not only with those floaties, but a few compatriots in the building, in new starting punter Arryn Siposs, formerly of St. Kilda, and practice squad defensive lineman Matt Leo.

"It's awesome, everyone always gives us a bunch of stick," Mailata said. "Everybody always says 'hey mate!' or 'you gonna eat some vegemite?' and they do their best Australian accent. They sound more British to be honest, and I do have to tell them.

"We all have different journeys - Matt was a plumber, I was a Rabbitohs Under-20's player and Arryn was playing in the AFL. Incredible to see three different stories be on one team.

"When we talk to each other about it, it's just remarkable that we came from where did. Look at us know, living out the dream that we set forth."