There's been much more to Wade's journey than meets the eye

August 27, 2019

There’s a group of lockers in the Buffalo Bills locker room that doesn’t usually get much media attention. They're just to the left when you walk in, but around a set of lockers, kind of tucked away. You can’t really see them unless you’re walking that way or specifically looking for someone, which is pretty much the way most thought it would be for Christian Wade when he showed up at offseason workouts back in April.  

By now, no one is searching to find Wade.

The entire football world knows him and his story, and I mean that literally. The Bills have had more requests from all around the world to interview him over the last couple of weeks than they have anyone else, including quarterback Josh Allen.

That’s what happens when you’re a rugby star in the United Kingdom, then come to America, score a 65-yard touchdown on your first carry as an NFL player, then follow it up with a 48-yard catch-and-run on your next touch the following week.

The videos of those plays have gone viral. The speed and power of Wade. His teammates jumping up and down for him, and the infectious smile he’s displayed when talking about it all to reporters. Even his head coach said last week that he’s making it look easy.

However, the truth is, it’s been anything but that for Wade.

As much as fans and media see the fun and jovial part of the 28-year-old, Wade’s journey from the league’s International Pathways Program to highlight-reel star, what they don’t see is the physical and mental demands that have gone along with it.

"It's been a struggle and a grind every day,” Wade told me while sitting in the stall of one of those not-too-noticeable lockers. “There were definitely times when I doubted myself, internally. I woke up doing a lot of self-talk, just reminding myself why I'm doing this, and just pushing myself to want to keep working every day and just wanting to get better every day. Once the games came around and I got an opportunity to play and I scored a touchdown and made another play, those are the moments that kind of help me to stay motivated and just gives me the strength to keep pushing on because those moments signify that I'm going in the right direction."

So why is Wade doing it? Why is he putting his body and mind through it every day, at an age when many NFL careers are ending or even already over, 3,500 miles away from his home?

“It’s all about pushing myself to my limits, physically and mentally,” he answers. “I’ve been a professional rugby player for 10 years. I’ve had a lot of mental challenges, whether it be through injuries or selection, or just the normal kind of pressures that come with playing the sport. But I got to a stage where it was so repetitive that I felt like I needed something more. So, coming here and being able to challenge myself against the best athletes in the world, and then challenge myself mentally in different ways through a different sport and see everything that comes with it, those are the things that are motivating me to wake up every day, keep pushing through it and keep working.” 

Although Wade says it was never his goal to be an NFL football player specifically, he became intrigued by the idea after so many people kept telling him that he’d be a good at the sport. But even after he decided to give it a try, he wasn’t even sure what it was all about. Once he got to Buffalo, he quickly understood there was a lot more to it than he realized.

“Even when I made the decision, I wasn’t fully aware of everything that goes on behind the scenes, until I got here,” he said. “It’s definitely pushing me in all those areas, physically and mentally, with all the plays you have to learn, how much information you have to retain, and then be able to execute to a high level on the field every day.”

Through the first two preseason games, Wade had three carries for 69 yards and a touchdown, plus the one catch for 48 yards. However, he didn’t play at all in last week’s 24-20 win over the Detroit Lions. That figures to change this Thursday night when the Bills face the Minnesota Vikings at home in the final exhibition game for both clubs. It’s usually a game that features players who either won’t make the team, or might still have an outside shot at a roster spot.

Wade said he’s been told he’ll get plenty of playing time, but even admits he’s not sure if that’s just playful “banter” or real. The Bills will most likely rest veteran backs LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore. Devin Singletary figures to be a key part of their offense this year, so he may not play much, if at all, either. Senorise Perry has been dealing with an injury all week and hasn’t practiced, which leaves his status for the game in doubt. That leaves Wade, T.J. Yeldon, and Marcus Murphy as the most likely running backs for them against Minnesota.

Wade is a long shot to make the final 53-man roster, but even if he doesn’t, he might still be signed to the team’s practice squad, either as a regular member of the 10-man unit, or as an 11th roster-exempt player. If the latter happens, he’s ineligible to play for the Bills or anyone else in 2019. But before any of that can happen, if he doesn’t make the cut on Saturday, he can be claimed by another team and placed immediately on their active roster. So Wade knows this is his last chance to show all 32 teams what he’s capable of, yet he won’t let it impact the way he goes about his business.

“I’m not really thinking about those things, in terms of selection. I’m practicing and training every day, thinking about my development. I’m learning the game. I’m putting my best foot forward every day and just allowing those kinds of decisions to be made by the people who make those decisions. Obviously we’re all here and wanting to make the team, so that’s how I’m conducting myself every day.”

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