Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
PROVO — Rugby star Paul Lasike is getting used to football and looks to make a big impact this season.
The New Zealand native saw light contribution at running back last season and has continued his progression into the offseason and fall camp.
“He’s made immense strides,” said running backs coach Mark Atuaia. “I think of all my (running backs), Paul has been the biggest bright spot to date. He hasn’t missed practice, he’s been here every day and has progressively gotten better as camp has gone on.”
Lasike, an All-American Rugby player, is battling with sophomores Jamaal Williams and Adam Hine for playing time, but should see ample opportunity to prove himself come game time.
In fact, coaches have already formulated specific plays to use his strengths as a Rugby player.
“We ran (the rugby play) in the scrimmage and it’s really fun and I love it,” said the 6-foot, 227-pound running back. “It’s fun, and if we’re able to run it, I think it will work well.”
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy, despite his prowess as a rugby player. At a glance, rugby, which shares many similarities to football, would come easy for a star player such as Lasike.
Not even close.
“It’s not the same thing at all,” Lasike said. “When I saw football all I thought is the running back just gets the ball and runs. There’s actually a lot more to it and yeah, it’s a completely different sport. There’s the same physicality, but there are a lot more nuances involved.”
Lasike took to the gridiron last season, and immediately came to understand how different American football is to his native sport. He battled through some initial frustrations but kept working to get to the points he’s at currently.
A little inspiration and encouragement never hurts, and Lasike received both from his boss, Ransford Sorensen.
“I work on the moving crew in the offseason, and my boss is a huge football fan,” Lasike said. “During the summer, when I worked, he’d always be telling me things — little tips because he’s a football fanatic. He’s always come to scrimmages and practices if there was just one person who inspired me, it would be him, but there are others who have obviously helped as well.”
With a full year in the program, Lasike feels he’s at the point where he can just play, and more importantly play well. Last season he had 33 rushes for 129 yards and two touchdowns, but feels ready to make a bigger contribution his second year.
“Having a year under my belt is a huge stepping stone,” Lasike said. “I can just play the game instead of just thinking, you know? It makes it more fun being able to just play and not have to think constantly where to go and all that.”
Despite the strides he’s made in football, Lasike feels he’ll always be a rugby player at heart, but he is loving the experience to play both.
“I’m just a fan of sport, and that’s what keeps me going,” he said. “I’ll always be a rugby boy, but I’m excited that I can perhaps contribute to the football team this year. I just want to help out — whether it be at running back, special teams or whoever. I just love to play. I love having a ball in my hands, and hopefully I can just contribute to this team’s success.”
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