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Matt Gade, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars running back Paul Lasike (33) sheds a defender during a game at Lavell Edwards Stadium on Friday, Oct. 25, 2013.
He brings in his rugby to football. —Jamaal Williams

PROVO — Originally, Paul Lasike came to BYU to play rugby.

Now, the native of Auckland, New Zealand, plays football, too. And he’s very good at both.

“My first love is rugby. I was born and raised with it,” said Lasike, a rugby All-American. “I was born with a rugby ball in my hand. I would say football is my adopted love now. I love both of the sports. They’re really fun, now that I understand football.”

The 6-foot, 227-pound senior has led the Cougar rugby team to three consecutive national championships, including BYU's most recent title in May, and he’s once again expected to be a key contributor on the football team this fall. As a junior, Lasike had 59 carries for 350 yards (5.9 yards per carry) and a touchdown.

Lasike first showed an interest in football while serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the heart of football country — Alabama. When he returned from his mission, he met with coach Bronco Mendenhall about giving football a try.

Mendenhall, who has a soft spot in his heart for rugby players, is fine with allowing Lasike to play both sports.

“I came in to this for rugby originally,” Lasike said. “Coach Mendenhall allows me to do this as long as it doesn’t interfere with football. He knows that I’m doing rugby and he’s OK with it. I think he just prays that I don’t get injured before fall camp. I appreciate him allowing me to play rugby.”

Though he’s only been playing football for a couple of seasons, he’s picked it up quickly.

“He brings in his rugby to football,” said Cougar running back Jamaal Williams. “Paul, from when he came here to now, he’s turned into a veteran. He knows everything. He knows the plays, who to block, everything. I have to listen to Paul because he knows more than me. It’s always great to have Paul around because he makes things light and funny. He’s never too serious.”

Lasike said it’s not easy competing in two physically demanding sports while attending school. “You’ve got to be in good standing off the field,” he explained.

While rugby and football are similar in many ways, one doesn't necessarily help him train for the other.

“Conditioning-wise, no. Football is really explosive, like those first couple of steps are the most important and it’s about power,” Lasike said. “But rugby, it’s hard cardio-wise on me. But both are really physical and it helps my mental game as well. The preparation is similar. The explosiveness in football, I can use it in rugby to break the initial tackles.”

Last spring, Mendenhall told Foxsports.com that he’s expecting big things from Lasike this season.

“We taught him the rules (of football) last year and we played a support role, but now he's really taken off,” Mendenhall said. “He's a pretty unique story. He's very violent when he runs with the ball, and he's super hard working. Most of these kids who are converted rugby players or are Polynesian from New Zealand are so humble. So he's really fun to work with.”

Mendenhall said Lasike is talented and versatile enough to play other positions.

“He could play a lot of different spots. Most of our guys are afraid of him when he has the ball in his hands, because he runs so physical. Cal had a really hard time tackling him in the (rugby) national championship game. Watching him run over players and then you consider that same dynamic with pads, it's pretty good.”

Last year, offensive coordinator Robert Anae installed a play specifically for Lasike — multiple rugby pitches near the goal line. But it failed in spectacular fashion.

“It’s probably not going to be in the script this year,” Lasike said, laughing. “It was fun, though, that Coach Anae at least thought of it. It’s a hard play to run.”