Samoa player Afa Aiono stiff arms United States player Carlin Isles in the neck while advancing the ball in the first half of a sevens rugby match during the 2013 HSBC Sevens World Series at Sam Boyd Stadium. Samoa defeated the United States 12-7.
Josh Holmberg-USA TODAY Sports
Carlin Isles is fast.
Really, really fast — and fast enough to get a shot at the NFL.
The Detroit Lions had Isles in for a workout earlier this week, and the Detroit News reported Isles ran a 4.22 in the 40-yard dash during that workout.
That was good enough for the Lions to sign Isles to their practice squad, giving the former football player and track star at Massillon Jackson High School and Ashland University a one-week look and a chance to make a lasting NFL impression.
He’s been playing professional rugby — and has been dubbed "the fastest man in rugby." The Lions were among a handful of teams lining up workouts for Isles as NFL roster sizes grow to 90 in the offseason. The Lions list Isles at 5’8, 158 and as a running back, though he lined up with the wide receivers and kick returners in his first NFL practice.
"You’re looking for athletes," Lions coach Jim Schwartz told Detroit reporters. "It hasn’t been unusual to see basketball players transition to the NFL, and it’s not just recently; that goes way back.
"Even track guys like Bob Hayes and Renaldo Nehemiah…an athlete’s an athlete, and there are skills you can develop, and if you see something that you like, then you can work with him."
Going back to the days of Paul Brown, the 40-yard dash has been used to measure football speed. Brown saw it then as the distance players ran when covering punts.
Legend has it that Bo Jackson ran 4.12 in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine; that was before electronic timing, though. Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson ran 4.24 in 2008; Marquise Goodwin ran 4.27 last year.
So, even if that 4.22 was an approximation, Isles was really moving. He’d been pursuing track and field before taking up rugby, ranking among America’s top 40 sprinters with a personal record of 10.13 in the 100 meters.
Isles, 24, is already committed to playing with the U.S. national rugby team in a tournament in Las Vegas next month and a tour through New Zealand, Hong Kong and Tokyo after that, according to the Detroit News. Even if he signs with the Lions or another team, NFL teams don’t start organized offseason workouts until April.
Isles owns school track records at both Jackson and Ashland; at Ashland, he earned all-conference honors as a kick returner in his second season before giving up football to pursue track professionally.
Now, he’s come back to football — at least temporarily — while continuing to pursue rugby, which becomes an Olympic sport in 2016. There’s a possibility he’ll be in an NFL training camp in 2014 because NFL teams are always looking for speed, and Isles certainly has plenty.