Sydney-born gridiron sensation Thomas Yassmin made a huge impact on today’s showpiece Rose Bowl game, with the 196cm code-convert scoring Utah’s first touchdown to further his reputation as one of American football’s hottest talents.
As a 17-year-old, Yassmin shelved his dream of making it in rugby league to chase fortune and glory in the NFL in 2018. In college football’s biggest game of the year, the now 22-year-old took a major step toward realising his dream when he caught a pass in the corner of the end zone to touch down early in the 109th annual showdown.
Yassmin’s score kept Utah level for the first two quarters but Penn State ultimately ran away with the game to win 35-21. However, after a four-year odyssey in American football that has him on the cusp of NFL stardom, Yassmin still walked off a winner.
The 113kg Sydneysider made his name playing rugby union at Scots College private school and was being pursued by both the NSW Waratahs and NRL clubs Brisbane Broncos and Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles when he was spotted by a coach from the University of Hawaii posting a lightning-fast 4.49 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Yassmin had never played gridiron when he joined the Utah Utes as an 18-year-old on a fully paid scholarship. The ESPN broadcast of today’s Rose Bowl took delight in sharing a story from his first days on a college team where the school rugby and basketball star couldn’t even figure out how to put on his pads for practice.
However Yassmin developed quickly. With his fast hands, physical toughness and speed he became a huge part of the Utah offensive attack while slowly but surely honing the key skills of memorising the NFL’s huge playbook, and learning how to block. In 2022, Yassmin finally became a stalwart of the Utah offence, playing in 12 games, starting in five and catching 12 passes for 300 yards and five touchdowns.
“I knew it was going to be a long road,” Yassmin told the Utes fan site of his journey. “I’m not going to lie, I didn’t think it would take as long as it did, but I think it just makes it that much sweeter, to finally get the opportunity and show what I can do.”
Yassmin got his big break this year when two players ahead of him on the tight end depth chart suffered injuries, paving the way for the young Australian to get serious game time. He didn’t disappoint, having a huge game against rivals Arizona State and climbing to fifth on the team for receiving yards with five touchdowns.
Yassmin follows fellow Australians Jordan Mailata and Daniel Faalele as former rugby stars who chased a dream in a game they barely knew to now play as pros in the NFL. Utah quarterback Cam Rising was full of praise for Yassmin ahead of the climactic game with Penn State in the game, known as ‘the granddaddy of them all’ in America.
“He’s as big as you want a tight end to be and he’s fast as a receiver,” Rising said of his teammate. “He does a great job just having that rugby background. You want to get the ball in his hands as fast as you can so that he can run and handle the rest.”
The Utes even flew in Yassmin’s brother Patrick for support, just the second time in four years the two have been together, and a reward for his solo odyssey in America.
“It’s been unreal,” he told KSL.com. “Guys on the team will tell you, there’s definitely times where I’ve gone through the wringer, and it’s been hard being away from home and family. … it’s very emotionally and mentally challenging, but in saying that it’s probably the greatest experience I’ve ever had.
Now, Yassmin is thinking beyond just the school’s business and math department where he is excelling away from the field.
“This was more than just a gateway for a good education,” Yassmin had told FoxSports. “But the more I speak to coaches, and other people who have done stuff similar to me… if I’m going to play college football, I might as well go all out and give the NFL a crack.”