When millions of Americans tune in to watch the 2016 Olympics, they'll witness a sport that hasn't been contested at the Summer Games in nearly 100 years.
And Perry Baker will be there to introduce it to them.
Baker, 30, is a fleet-footed winger on the United States National Rugby Sevens Team, which will represent the stars and stripes against the world's best rugby nations in Rio. A native of Daytona Beach, Florida, Baker was a game-changing factor in the USA Eagles' upset of New Zealand in May, scoring four times en route to a 42–12 romp over the perennial powerhouse Kiwi squad.
"It’s great that rugby is making an appearance," Baker says. "It’s helping the sport grow a lot—it’s one of the fastest growing sports in the United States."
While rugby may take a back seat to football in the U.S. these days, the Americans have had Olympic success in the past. The U.S. brought home a gold medal at the last Olympic contest to feature the sport in 1924, although it was the traditional 15-man format and not the seven-player version that will be used in Brazil.
And with Baker on the squad, the U.S. may have a shot at the gold yet again.
Nicknamed "Speedstick," the gazelle-limbed winger (roughly analogous to a wide receiver or running back) once turned in a 4.34 in the 40-yard-dash. He hasn't always always been a rugger—the 6’1”, 180-pound lightning bolt played wide receiver for Fairmont State University and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2011—but after a knee injury ended his chance at an NFL career, he channeled his supreme footspeed toward the rugby pitch.
He fuels up like a top performer, too. “It’s day-in-and-day-out grind," he says. "A lot of work and dedication, and a lot of sacrifice, goes into it. Eating right and eating healthy is a big part of my training." His go-to post-workout meals: protein shakes, vegetables, and rice.
Baker has teamed up with top-tier athletes on Team USA—like Becky Sauerbrunn (women's soccer), Amanda Bingson (hammer throw), Richard Browne (Paralympic Men's T44 100-meter), and Melissa Stockwell (Paratriathlon)—as a member of Team Budweiser, too.
In the video below, Baker dishes on his expectations for the U.S. team in Rio, the rugby's return to the Olympics, and how seeing his face on a 225-foot billboard compares to his childhood dream of being on the cover of a cereal box.