Lasike hits one year of football

Much like Ezekiel Ansah, who will soon join the ranks of the NFL, Paul Lasike joined BYU's football program having little-to-no prior experience. This spring marks the one-year anniversary of his introduction to football, a sport he's now grown to love.

On the rugby field, Paul Lasike is a force to be reckoned with. He's big and fast for his size and plays with no hesitancy when it comes to lowering his shoulder and running the ball. His prowess comes from his athleticism and an overabundance of instinct that makes him better than most everyone else.

"Yeah, you know, rugby for me just comes natural," Lasike said. "I've been playing it my whole life and so I don't have to think about what I'm going to do. I just get the ball and go, you know?

"So, in rugby everything is intuitive for me. [For me, playing football is] like walking one way your whole life and then being told to walk a different way, you know? I'm still trying to learn that but I've definitely come a long way from last year."

It was last year that he decided to trade the ruck and scrum of rugby for handoffs and swing passes out on the football field.

"This is my one-year anniversary playing football this spring," said Lasike with a smile. "Everything is coming together, you know? I still have heaps of learning to do, but as for the [rushing] tracks and handoffs that I struggled with last spring, it's all starting to be a little more fluent for me now."

The dynamics of rugby allow for a team with the ball to continue rushing the ball regardless of how many yards have been gained. A major difference between football and rugby is that a rugby player rushing the ball has to do it all on his own without the help of teammates. When it comes to football, Lasike has had to learn patience in allowing the play to develop through the use of blockers.

"[I've learned about] just being patient, and as soon as the play develops, just hitting it. In rugby it's more you're trying to gain yards and it doesn't matter if you gain one or two because, like I said, it's continuous," Lasike said. "In football every run counts because you only have so many chances to get the first down."

Rushing the ball is the easier part of football for the New Zealand native. But in football, and especially at BYU, there are three pillars to being an effective running back, and that includes blocking like a fullback, which isn't done in rugby.

"Running to me is second nature and I love running the ball," Lasike said. "With blocking there is a lot of technique and you have to break down, and then you have good linebackers, like the ones we have, and you have to be able to move laterally too and pop and just all that kind of stuff."

In ruby, players do laterally pass the ball down the line in an attempt to move the ball forward. But it's much different than how a pass is thrown in football, given designed routes and vastly different catching techniques.

"Then [there's] catching the ball too and I still struggle to catch the ball," said Lasike with a smile. "They really zip the ball to you and you have gloves on and the ball is smaller. I'm still struggling to catch the ball and have to learn a lot and get in front of the jugs machine and catch the ball, like I said, just so it can all become second nature to me and I don't have to think about it.

"When I'm thinking in the backfield like, ‘Oh no, what am I doing – am I blocking or am I running,' then it's slower, so those are some of the things that are coming. Then there's film and memorizing the plays so that when it comes to game time all you need to do is go hard instead of thinking."

Despite joining the football team Lasike hasn't completely given up Cougar rugby. During spring camp, Lasike rejoined his old rugby teammates for a contest held on March 9 when BYU faced the Wing Foot of the New York Men's Athletic Rugby Club.

"Yeah, it was a pretty big game for the program, and so Coach Mendenhall let me go back that one time to play in that game," said Lasike. "It was really great for him to allow me to do that."

If one were to compare the Wing Foot program to the list of countries that have historically participated in the Olympics, they would be ranked fifth in the world for the most medals won. That is how successful the program has been as a member of the Rugby Super League, which is the highest level of rugby competition in the USA just under that of the pros of Rugby Union.

"Yeah, they were really tough and it was a good game for our rugby team to compete in," said Lasike. "It was a tough, physical game for sure."

BYU lost the contest 22-16 in what was nearly a come-from-behind win. The Cougars had many chances to snatch the victory, but it just wasn't their day. The game was paused for a time in order to assist injured 6-foot-3-inch, 230-pound flanker Kyle Sumsion, who was knocked unconscious after accidentally being on the receiving end of a blow by a teammate.

Sumsion was eventually strapped to a stretcher and taken to the hospital by ambulance. The Wing Foot player who was the initial target of the hit walked off the field shouting in protest concerning the BYU player that hit him and Sumsion, saying, ‘That guy should be red-carded because he hit me like a football player! He came in with his shoulders down and all forearm and just nailed me!' Little did he know that BYU player that did so actually was actually a football player as well – Paul Lasike.

"Well, I did [that] because I do a lot of shoulder charge because you're supposed to wrap in rugby," said Lasike with a laugh. "So when I try and block the linebackers [while playing football], I wrap them and get called for holding. Then when it comes to rugby, I get called for shoulder charging because I'm on defense, so it's like, ‘Man, everything is backwards now.'"

Keeping track of the similarities and difference between the two sports can be difficult at times, but when it comes to football, Lasike feels he's come a long ways since the day he first strapped on his football helmet.

"I'm probably about 65-to-70 percent right now, you know?" Lasike said. "I've come a long way, but there is still so much I need to learn about the game. I would say I'm about 65-to-70 percent and still have this whole season to learn from. Hopefully by my third and final year I'll understand the game comfortably."

On the ninth series of the football team's spring game held last Saturday, Lasike busted through the defense for a 32-yard touchdown in what was the most exciting run of the day. The manner in which he was able to score that final touchdown is evidence that he's running the ball more like a football player than a rugby player.

"I'm known for just running it straight whether or not the gap is there or not," said Lasike. "That can be a good thing, but that can be a problem too. If I just go to the right just a little bit, there is a massive gap, but I'm not. That last play was just a straight up gap-one play but they shut it down, and so I was like, ‘I'm going to see what it's like on the outside.' Basically there was just the safeties and I was like, ‘Oh I love this stuff!' you know? I didn't try and juke and just put my head down."

Lasike broke a tackle and then it was off to the races. He sped his way downfield and into the end zone. As he was just about to reach the end zone, it would have been quite funny if Lasike had a momentary lapse of concentration and dove across the line of scrimmage or touched the ball down for a rugby try.

"You know what, that always does cross my mind," said Lasike with a laugh. "But this time whenever it happens it doesn't cross my mind. When I'm sitting down, you know, watching film or thinking, I'm always, ‘Man, I'm going to put the ball down.' But when it comes time I'm either too tired or just glad I got into the end zone. When I was running there I was like, ‘Sweet!' All you need to do is run over the line and it's a touchdown. It makes my job easier, you know?"

Once spring camp comes to a close, Lasike will once again switch his football jersey for a rugby jersey and rejoin the Cougar rugby team. He was expecting to play this Friday against rival Utah, but the game has been canceled due to a major violation involving the Utah rugby program. University of Utah officials have suspended their rugby team from playing in the 2013-14 season and there are reports that it could be a long-term suspension as well.

Total Blue Sports Top Stories