Paul Lasike grew up half a world away from Provo in Auckland, New Zealand, where he played rugby from a young age and never expected he would someday accomplish what he did last month.
Lasike is a member of both the BYU football and rugby teams. On Sept. 28, Lasike scored his first two touchdowns — ever — and racked up a total of 65 offensive yards against Hawaii to add to his trophy case of All-American status in rugby and two national rugby championships.
“I never thought I’d be here,” Lasike said. “It still fathoms me to this day that I’m playing football, a sport I’ve never played in my entire life, and I’m playing for BYU.”
While Lasike’s success in the backfield after junior running back Michael Alisa broke his arm against Hawaii may have come as a surprise to some Cougar football fans, rugby teammate and friend Ray Forrester says it shouldn’t.
“(Paul) is just so naturally gifted and talented,” Forrester said. “His coasting is like regular people’s going hard. … Obviously, he produces. He’s just a beast. He’s like the fittest, fastest person on earth, and he’s strong too.”
Alisa expressed a similar sentiment.
“We all look up to Paul a lot because, as a rugby player, he’s a star,” Alisa said. “He’s played on the national level, and we all know he is probably a much better athlete than the rest of us. … He’s just a freak athlete.”
Lasike was recruited by BYU football coaches this past rugby season and was invited to participate in spring practice in March.
“They said, ‘Come and give football a go, and go through spring ball and we’ll see how you develop, if you can pick it up fast enough,'” Lasike recalled. “They invited me back for fall camp, and now here I am. … I must have done something right in spring ball to come back to fall.”
BYU Head Football Coach Bronco Mendenhall agreed that Lasike was doing the right things.
“Lasike has been a nightmare on our defense,” Mendenhall told reporters after the Hawaii game. “They think twice about tackling the guy if they want to stay healthy for the season. I’ve seen them jump out of his way many times.”
Mendenhall said Lasike is used to playing a physical sport without a helmet and pads, which makes him more of a threat.
“To him, it’s a luxury to have a helmet and shoulder pads on. He’s used to doing it without any,” Mendenhall said.
Lasike said getting used to the helmet and pads has been a big challenge, along with the challenge of adapting to the structure of the game.
“In football, every play, there’s a certain place you have to be,” Lasike said. “There’s not much improvising. If there’s a play called, you have to be in that position at that time. But in rugby, most of it’s improvising.”
While his transition to football has been something of a surprise, Lasike said his family back in New Zealand has been very supportive.
“A lot of (BYU) games are on ESPN, so they’re able to watch them,” Lasike said. “Back in Australia and New Zealand, we don’t watch any football. It’s all rugby. So now my family is into football and just trying to learn the rules at least because they don’t know what’s going on. It’s been really cool.”
Lasike said playing both rugby and football will ultimately help him become a better athlete as a whole.
“Now that I’ve seen both and how training for both are, I know both of them can help each other,” Lasike said. “I use rugby stuff on the football field, and I’m sure I’m going to use stuff I learned in football on the rugby field.”
Off the pitch, Lasike is an exercise wellness major. He hopes to become either a personal trainer or a physical trainer someday and would be happy working in the United States, back in New Zealand or “wherever the wind blows.”
According to Forrester, Lasike shines just as much off the field as he does in sports.
“Off the field, he’s probably one of the most talented dudes you’ve ever met,” Forrester said. “He can play any instrument, like no joke. Put it in his hand and he can play it. … He sings like an angel, too. Seriously, I’m not exaggerating. He’s got an amazing voice. He’s talented, he’s a fun guy, he’s awesome to hang out with. He’s just an all-around good dude. And he’s humble, too. That’s why people like him, because he’s humble.”
Lasike said humility is one of the biggest things he has gained throughout the transition, as well as throughout his life.
“I learned this on my mission too, but I’ve really learned the importance of prioritizing my time and especially the importance of staying humble and trying to be like Christ,” Lasike said. “That’s really important to try to stay on a ground level.”