England sevens star Alex Gray signs for Atlanta Falcons practice squad


Former England sevens player Alex Gray has signed for the Atlanta Falcons practice squad.

Gray, 26, has joined the Falcons as a tight end with the move coming as part of the new international player pathway programme.

That programme sees teams from the NFC South division given an allowance for an extra space in their practice squad, but they are ineligible to be activated during the season.

Gray has been training alongside fellow draft hopefuls in Florida for the past three months with Super Bowl-winner Osi Umenyiora and NFLUK head of development Aden Durde overseeing the programme.

The shift in sport sees Gray move on from rugby where he captained England's Under-16, 18 and 20 sides and played top flight rugby for London Irish and Newcastle Falcons. He also represented England at sevens and was set to feature for Team GB at Rio 2016, but suffered an injury in the build-up.

He was part of Yorkshire Carnegie's squad for the 2016-17 campaign, but decided to focus his attention on American football.

"I have been working hard for this goal and to be told it was going to happen was an amazing moment," Gray said. "This is the start of another journey.

"It is a fantastic thing that is happening, but I am not going to get to where I want to be without keeping myself grounded. Making the decision to give this my all from rugby, there was a big transition period and it was mentally very humbling.

"When you have to start from scratch again, that was a huge mental battle for me. When I look back I will be very proud of the way I approached this."

Mark Waller, NFL executive vice-president of international, said: "This is an important part of the league's overall strategy to grow internationally.

"We are building this pathway program in order to provide international athletes with the opportunity to play in the league, which will increase the pool of talent, develop heroes who can inspire others and drive fan growth."