BYU rugby star’s path to Provo an unlikely story

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Jonny Linehan kicks the ball as Ryan Roundy looks on.  (Photos by Chris Bunker)
BYU flyhalf Jonny Linehan kicks the ball as teammate Ryan Roundy looks on. (Chris Bunker)

Silence fell over the crowd as the rugby ball soared through the air. End over end it flew. Time seemed to stand still as the ball made its way towards the posts. It slipped through. The crowd erupted. Jonathan Linehan had made the kick to win the national championship.

The junior flyhalf came up clutch many times during BYU Rugby’s national championship runs in 2013 and 2014, none more crucial than when he hit the game-winning kick as time expired to beat Cal 27–24 in the 2013 Varsity Cup championship game.

But unlike his constant impact on the field, Linehan’s path to BYU was more unexpected.

Growing up in New Zealand created quite a few roadblocks to attending BYU. The 7,000-mile distance, expenses involved and politics of studying abroad made BYU an improbable option. But it was Linehan’s passion for rugby that ultimately linked together the unlikely pair.

Linehan began playing rugby when he was 4 years old and immediately fell in love with the sport.

“I’ve always been keen to play for the All-Blacks growing up, but really I just wanted to keep playing all my life,” Linehan said.

But he chose to put his dreams on hold for two years as he served a mission for the LDS Church in Australia.

In the Missionary Training Center, Linehan first learned about the BYU rugby team from a former player.

“I didn’t know how good they were,” Linehan said. “But I thought it was sweet that they had cool uniforms.”

Linehan began to seriously consider attending BYU toward the end of his mission.

“My dad said I could make the BYU team, which I thought was pretty cool, but I kept putting the thought off,” Linehan said. “It was a distracting thought to have as a missionary, especially when it seemed so impossible.”

But he found himself returning to Utah following his mission to attend the October 2012 General Conference. There he stayed with longtime friend Josh Jenson, who once again brought up the possibility of playing rugby at BYU.

“Jonny said that it was a bit more of a dream than anything,” Jenson said. “Then one day he said he wanted to go play with the team at practice just to see how good they were. That was the turning point. I guess once the coaches saw how good he was they wanted him.”

One of those coaches was Cougar head coach Dave Smyth, who was particularly impressed with Linehan.

“He was a young man who wanted to come to BYU to study and was very interested in playing rugby as well,” Smyth said. “So I said, ‘Get the paperwork done, and let’s see where it goes.’”

Life became a whirlwind for Linehan. In the span of one month he was accepted to BYU, obtained a visa and found himself on the other side of the world, living the dream he had thought was impossible.

Since arriving at BYU, Linehan has won two national championships, been named MVP in one of those games and has been listed on the All–American team.

Rugby has been more than just a game for Linehan. It has been the fulfillment of a dream.

“BYU rugby is everything to me,” he said. “It has changed my life. I hope to make it everything for the rest of my life.”

With his game-winning kicks and passion for the game, Linehan has showed that dreams can become a reality — no matter how impossible they may seem.

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