Australian running back Jarryd Hayne is retiring from the NFL after one season, choosing instead to pursue a chance to compete with the Fiji Rugby Sevens in this summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"I am retiring from the NFL because the Fiji Rugby Sevens team reached out to me about the opportunity to join the team for the upcoming Olympics, and I simply could not pass that chance up," Hayne said in a statement. "The Olympics has been something I have admired since I was a little boy, and it is an opportunity I feel very similar to me joining the NFL."
Hayne, 28, signed with the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent in March 2015 after he gave up a lucrative rugby career in Australia to take a shot at the NFL. While Hayne was born in Australia, his father, Manoa Thompson, is Fijian. Hayne previously represented Fiji in the 2008 Rugby League World Cup. He played for Australia at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
"I could not have predicted how far I have come as an NFL player. To not only be able to play in a game but also say that I started a game in the NFL is something that I will remember for a lifetime."Jarryd Hayne
"The support and understanding from the 49ers organization was unbelievable when I let them know about my decision to pursue another dream. The past 12 months with the San Francisco 49ers have been absolutely incredible," Hayne said. "I could not have predicted how far I have come as an NFL player. To not only be able to play in a game but also say that I started a game in the NFL is something that I will remember for a lifetime."
49ers CEO Jed York wished Hayne the best on Twitter, writing that he admired his "grit and determination." Hayne in turn tweeted thanks to York for the opportunity to play for the team.
Wish you all the best @JarrydHayne. I truly admire your grit and determination.— Jed York (@JedYork) May 15, 2016
Thank you for the opportunity mate. 4ever thankful, 4ever a 49er 💪🏽 https://t.co/KQDRcsVT71— jarryd hayne (@JarrydHayne) May 15, 2016
Hayne made the roster out of training camp after a sensational preseason in which he averaged 7 yards per carry, rushing for 175 yards on 15 carries. He fumbled his first touch as the team's punt returner in Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings and was waived by the 49ers in October, only to later re-sign with the team. He started at running back in the 49ers' 32-17 loss to the Lions on Dec. 27 and finished his only NFL season with 52 yards on 17 carries, 27 yards receiving on 6 catches and 76 yards on eight kick returns.
"Jarryd is a tremendous example of what can happen when you commit to a goal and do everything in your power to make it a reality. He earned the right to wear a 49ers uniform and compete alongside the best in the game," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement.
"We fully support Jarryd's decision to pursue another dream -- representing the Fiji Rugby Sevens team in this summer's Olympic games. We look forward to watching him in Rio and wish him continued success."
Fiji Rugby Sevens coach Ben Ryan said Sunday that Hayne isn't guaranteed to make the team for the Rio Games.
"It is a huge challenge for Jarryd but if he gets into the squad it is only going to be on form, because he is a blinding rugby player," Ryan said, according to the World Rugby Sevens official website. "If he doesn't make it, [it] just shows how good this Fijian sevens side is."