Rugby halfback to try out at cornerback

The Cougars have suffered a bad string of injuries at the cornerback position. To help find bodies for depth, the football coaching staff has tapped into BYU's rugby team.

As Coach Mendenhall gathered with the media on Friday, he was asked about Adam Hogan, the latest cornerback to get hurt. Hogan left the practice field with what was believed to be a quad strain or contusion.

After updating everyone on Hogan's status, Mendenhall told the media, "We'll take recommendations or tryouts from any of you that might have some eligibility – might be able to help us at corner – so 3:00 today, report with your cleats on the field and let's see what you look like out there."

It was a lighthearted comment as Mendenhall had some fun with the media, but as an old saying goes, there's truth in jest.

After Mendenhall finished speaking with the media, a familiar face appeared. It was BYU rugby halfback Jonny Linehan (halfback is the equivalent of a quarterback).

Linehan had the winning drop kick as time expired to lift BYU over Cal and win the Varsity Cup national championship this past season. It was a gutsy play by the freshman, who is known for his kicking ability. However, the football coaches are potentially looking at him to play cornerback.

"I heard from some of the rugby boys that they were getting calls from some of the coaches saying, 'Hey, we want to know if you want to play cornerback?' When I heard that I was like, 'I reckon I could play!' If you just give me the opportunity to play, I'll take the bull by the horns. If I'm given the opportunity to be the best, I'm going to try and be the best. At the same time I try and keep my head screwed on as well."

Linehan heard about their interest early on Friday.

"I came out to train and I spoke to one of the strength and conditioning coaches and said, 'Hey, I hear you're looking for a cornerback?' He was like, 'Are you looking to play?'" said Linehan with a smile. "I was like, 'Yeah, give me a shot,' and said he didn't know if any of the coaches were out there. Then he went out there and saw someone and he was like, 'Can he run, are his grades good, can he live by the honor code?' He then told me to meet him upstairs, so that's what I'm doing. I'm going to ask him to just give me the opportunity and I'm going to run with it."

Some of the rugby players caught wind that Linehan was going to try out for football, and he was reminded to keep the rugby culture close to his heart.

"I was speaking with some of the rugby boys and they're like, 'Don't let it go to your head and always be a rugby boy,'" said Linehan. "I was like, 'Definitely,' you know? If I do make it and they make me choose between the two, it will definitely be rugby."

However, there is also some excitement among the rugby players.

"The two programs are becoming more meshed now because when they need extra players they go to the rugby players," said an excited Linehan. "All the rugby boys are actually buzzing at the moment, saying, 'Hey, they're coming to us!' It's pretty cool because we're all rugby boys who are being asked to possibly try out for football."

Although there are some similarities between rugby and football, there are a lot more differences. If Linehan does make the team, not only will he be thrown into the mix with football players who possess the necessary technique required to play the sport, but he'll also face Division I players armed with helmets and pads.

"No, I've never played football before in my life," Linehan said on Friday around noon. "I actually haven't spoke to them about playing cornerback because I just heard about that two hours ago that they're looking for a punter. I don't really know what's expected, but, like I said, they're going to have to teach me how to play and how to put the pads on."

Thoughts of Ziggy Ansah's efforts to put football pads on for the first time come to mind here.

"They just need to tell me what to do and I'll do it," said Linehan with a smile. "If they tell me to go hit that guy, I'll do it. If they tell me to go chase the ball, I'll chase the ball."

To get a better idea of what's to come, Linehan spoke to fellow rugby player Paul Lasike, who also plays running back for the football team.

"I was speaking to him last week and he was like, ‘Are you going to try out for the football team? Are you going to try and walk-on?'" said Linehan. "I was like, 'Yeah, I'm going to try it!' I mean, the worst thing they can say is no, right? The best thing they could say is come and be a part of the team, so I have nothing to lose from making an effort. I mean if they say no, I haven't lost anything because I'm still here to play rugby, so what do I have to lose? If anything, I might be able to contribute to the football team. If I can, I'm willing to help as much as I can. All I need is a chance and go from there."


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