From New Zealand to BYU, Jonny Linehan came to America with the simple purpose of playing for BYU’s storied rugby team; a team that has 5 national championships in recent years. Now Linehan has gone from playing big time rugby to playing on an even bigger stage with BYU football.
“Oh, it’s crazy. Yeah, it’s crazy,” Linehan said. “It’s definitely a dream come true, but a dream that I did have for a while. Obviously growing up I didn’t have a dream of playing college football, so I’m very humbled that I get a chance to live other people’s dreams.”
He recalls the first time he attended a BYU football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium and thinking, ‘This is where I need to be.’
“Yeah, just being able to be here and go to my first football game was amazing,” Linehan recalled. “When I came here I think it was against Utah, or something like that, and I was like, ‘Man, I want to be on that field. Whatever it takes, whatever I have to do, whether its carrying water, I want to be on that field.’ I set my mind on what I wanted to do and when the coaches gave me a chance, I couldn’t let that opportunity go. Now I’m just excited. I did my job during game one and now it’s time to go forth and help the team out and let everyone see what punters can do.”
Linehan received his baptism by fire in one incredible venue. His first football as a rugby turned football player happened to be at Memorial Stadium against Nebraska in front of nearly 90,000 fans dressed in a sea of red. He punted five times for an average of 51 yards. His first punt was a nice one that gave Nebraska poor field position.
“I just wanted to make sure I got smooth contact with the ball,” said Linehan. “I knew that if I could hit the ground with the turf that it would take some nice hops. There was one that did hop more than I wanted it to and that was kind of embarrassing. I’m excited for Boise to show that my kicking wasn’t a fluke.”
In rugby they don’t snap the ball to the kicker or punter. So, fielding a snap from the long snapper was something new to Linehan. However, he wasn’t nervous or worried about fielding the snap prior to his first kick.
“No, not really,” Linehan said. “My scrumhalf Luke Mocke gives me pretty good passes. The biggest obstacle for me was just kicking it over a shield because if they get blown up they’re coming back on me. In rugby it’s just so much more composed and natural for me.”
During fall camp Linehan struggled at times to get good distance on his kicks. He learned over time that a consistent swing of his leg is more powerful than simply trying to crush the ball when it comes to getting more yards out of a kick.
“I think over fall camp and the thing that will make me not perform as well is for me to try and do too much,” Linehan said. “It’s kind of like a golf swing. If you try and smash it too much you’ll slice it. This is kind of the same.”
Linehan is looking forward to playing Boise State in his first home game at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Although there venue won’t be as big as Memorial Stadium, playing at LaVell Edwards Stadium will be much more meaningful to him.
“It’s not as many people but, yeah, there will be more people there that mean something to me,” Linehan said. “There will be a lot of friends and family. Unfortunately my New Zealand family won’t be able to make, which is a shame. They were watching the Nebraska game at church and had no idea what was going on. They were like, ‘Was that good or bad?
“The commentators said it was good but we don’t know’ because obviously everyone is more into rugby. Somethings that are bad in rugby are good in football so they were a big confused. I’m really excited to play at LaVell Edwards Stadium, and that’s one thing that I most look forward to is playing at home in front of my friends and family here. It’s going to be my first home game and I’m excited to feel the passion that I’ve been fortunate enough to feel while playing rugby at BYU.”
In reflection as a rugby player, playing in his first ever football game against a storied program like Nebraska was exciting enough as it is. However, to play in a game that ended in the manner it did make Linehan’s first ever football game experience as a BYU Cougar just that much more memorable. It’s something he’ll never forget.
“It was just a crazy experience for me, and playing in front of all those people was just incredible,” said Linehan. “It was just an amazing experience and I’ll never forget everything that happened on that day.”