BYU sophomore scrum half Luke Mocke did not hear about BYU until he was 16 when the BYU Singers visited his native Krugersdorp, South Africa.
“We hosted the BYU Singers,” said Mocke, a 22-year-old business major. “I must’ve been about 16. They showed me their Facebook profiles. So many pretty girls on their profiles.”
Looking foward to the possibility of the rugby team winning its fourth national title in six years, the success of the BYU program and the opportunity to attend a prestigious university is a draw for overseas rugby talents who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wanting to be surrounded by those who share their faith.
More than six different countries are represented on the 2014 BYU rugby roster.
Sophomore fly half Jonny Linehan is a native of Auckland, New Zealand, and said BYU was the American college team members of the church in New Zealand cheered for.
“Growing up as a member of the Church, you support them when you see them play on TV,” Linehan said. “Your American college team.”
Linehan said BYU did not cross his mind as an option for school until he was serving a mission.
“During my mission, I actually thought about coming to BYU. One of my friends in the MTC was a New Zealander and went to BYU before his mission. He had all of the rugby gear. He got me all excited,” Linehan said. “But my last companion, he was fresh. I trained him. He told me all about Jimmer and how awesome BYU is. He said, ‘If I were you, I’d play for BYU.'”
Linehan finished his mission to Australia in June 2012 then attended general conference in Salt Lake City in October. On his visit, he made a trip down to BYU campus and met with a few of the BYU coaches.
Luckily for Linehan, the coaches needed a fly half who could work seamlessly with Mocke at the scrum half position, and Linehan fit right into their system.
“It was a spur of the moment. Checked out the campus. Check out the team. The dream became more of a reality,” Linehan said of his meeting with the BYU rugby coaching staff. “Everything was really fast. I was really lucky. I understand how lucky I am.”
Unlike Linehan’s journey to BYU, other international players spent time playing for club teams in Utah Valley prior to attending BYU, like Mocke, who moved to Alpine in 2010.
For Mocke, making the move from South Africa to Alpine wasn’t a cultural shock for him.
“I was staying with the Huberts. Wayne is South African,” Mocke said of the Hubert household. “They would cook South African food. Really accommodating. It was only for four months, so I didn’t really have to adjust living there.”
With the help of sponsors and the Hubert family, Mocke played for United rugby club of Alpine for four months before leaving for a full-time church mission.
Joining Mocke on the United club team were the Whippy brothers, Joshua and Jared, of Suva, Fiji, who now join Mocke and Linehan on the field.
“We went to high school at the Church College of New Zealand. They were recruiting players,” said Joshua Whippy of BYU rugby head coach David Smyth’s visit to New Zealand.
Joshua Whippy thought the recruiting was an opportunity to play professionally in the U.S.
“I thought I was just going to play rugby. I’ve never been to America. I didn’t know I was going to school here,” he said with a smile.
Playing for United gave the Whippy brothers the opportunity to play with Mocke and other future BYU teammates and develop chemistry before their missions in 2010.
“Good fun. Good guy,” Joshua Whippy said of Mocke’s character. “The chemistry is much easier.”
Moving to America did not come without its share of surprises for the Whippy brothers.
“Food is cheap and in large quantities. I couldn’t get over it,” Jared Whippy said, laughing.
For Joshua Whippy, the importance of sports in American culture was a surprise.
“It surprised me how serious they take sports here,” he said. “We just did it for fun. Here, they breathe and eat rugby. They take it seriously.”
Playing rugby for BYU comes with its struggles and sacrifices.
The Whippy brothers have been playing rugby away from home since high school. The last time they saw their family was Christmas break for two weeks after being away for two years.
“There are so many things to think about and balance,” Mocke said about the importance of prioritizing. “Coming to BYU has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It’s challenged me in ways I never knew I’d be challenged. It’s different from just coming down the road from Alpine. I don’t get to call home on the fly. It costs money.”