SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Jarryd Hayne made his way to the San Francisco waterfront with his visiting mother and sisters then waited for word. When 15 minutes went by after the deadline for NFL roster cuts Saturday, he finally dialed his agent and found out the thrilling news: He made the 49ers’ 53-man roster.
“That’s the first time I’ve been nervous in a while,” he said. “Big relief.”
Hayne joined the Niners this past spring with the daunting task of making the transition from rugby league star back home in Australia to NFL newcomer across the world.
The 27-year-old rookie return man made good on his goal nearly a year after leaving his old sport to chase an American football dream, and his quest captivated a country more than 7,000 miles away.
“I have a journey I’m on at the moment. I’m just blessed and honored to be a part of the 49ers franchise,” Hayne said. “They’ve given me the opportunity. They’re the one that put faith in me.”
Hayne was so giddy he announced on Twitter he made the cut before the 49ers formally said it.
“IT ALWAYS WORKS OUT! I thank GOD for WHAT HE has done and going to do on this incredible journey!! I’m on the 53 MAN ROSTER FOR THE #49ers,” Hayne wrote on Twitter to his 153,000 followers.
Call him the Hayne Plane or the Hayne Train, both nicknames have stuck — and, now, so has Hayne.
Coach Jim Tomsula said last weekend following the third exhibition game at Denver that he had seen all he needed from Hayne, including those countless hours of tape he watched of him as a rugby league player.
“Am I extremely proud, yes, in taking a chance and looking outside the box here as an organization? Yes,” Tomsula said. “I’m extremely grateful and proud that the organization did that. I’m extremely grateful and proud of the coaches that coach him every day. I just think it’s a good thing for everyone.”
Hayne left the National Rugby League last fall, then signed a three-year contract with San Francisco in March as an undrafted free agent in a deal he said included $100,000 in guaranteed money. Hayne spent the previous nine years — from 2006-14 — with the Parramatta Eels.
“It’s been really fun to watch. Right off the bat you notice how well he can catch a ball,” veteran placekicker Phil Dawson said. “Catching a punt is probably one of the toughest skills in the NFL and he’s just stepped right in and looks like a natural. That’s something that was God given.”
Under the guidance of running backs coach Tom Rathman he learned the nuances of football, and with sound advice from teammates on everything from taking a hit, to proper pad level and even the basics of American living, Hayne found his way — even if he’s still struggling to get a decent cup of coffee that compares to his caffeine back home.
Tight end Vernon Davis had a chance to chat with Hayne in the locker room hot tub recovering from a recent workout and told the running back he was more than a rookie given his experience.
“When it comes to Jarryd Hayne, he’s tough, he’s physical, he’s relentless,” Davis said. “He’s passionate and he’s just a special and unique player, his ability to make guys miss and run really well with the football in his hands. It’s amazing to see that.”
Hayne carried 10 times for 58 yards, caught a pair of passes for 17 yards, and returned three punts for 43 yards in a win against the Chargers to conclude his impressive preseason.
He has shown he is sure-handed and unafraid to take a hit. Hayne had one fair catch on a punt return this preseason, and he was instructed to do so Thursday night against San Diego.
“I want to take a risk, I want to put myself out there,” he said.
In other moves Saturday, San Francisco placed rookie tight end Busta Anderson and running back Kendall Hunter on injured reserve and released linebacker Nick Moody, who had hoped to compete for a starting spot.
Other players cut were: WR DiAndre Campbell, CB Marcus Cromartie, G/C Dillon Farrell, RB Kendall Gaskins, TE Xavier Grimble, CB Leon McFadden, DT Kaleb Ramsey, OL Justin Renfrow, DL Marcus Rush, NT Garrison Smith, QB Dylan Thompson, G Andrew Tiller, S Jermaine Whitehead.