Former Kiwi NFL player Paul Lasike primed for USA rugby debut

Lasike was a former member of the Chicago Bears in the NFL.
Lasike was a former member of the Chicago Bears in the NFL. Photo credit: Getty

Former Kiwi NFL player Paul Lasike has marked his return to rugby with a call-up to the United States of America national team.

The 27-year-old has been included in Eagles head coach Gary Gold's squad for the Americas Rugby Championship, which kicks off in just under a week.

His selection comes only after signing his first professional rugby contract in November last year, when he joined the Utah Warriors ahead of the much-awaited Major League Rugby competition.

Lasike had previously served as an NFL player for the Chicago Bears, as a full-back, until he was released in May.

Just six months later the Warriors came calling and signed the imposing 113kg now-come centre to a two-year deal.

Fast forward three months and Lasike has a chance to fulfil his dream of being an international rugby player.

With USA's tournament preparations set to get underway in a few days, Lasike is excited to get back onto the rugby field.

"It's an honour to be considered," Lasike told the Utah Warriors Rugby website.

"I've got some work to do, but it's been fun getting back in the mix of things.

"The Eagles is obviously a big step up, but I'm confident in the progress I've made so far."

It has all come full circle for Lasike, who began with aspirations of becoming an All Black as youngster coming through the ranks.

Born in Auckland, he grew up playing rugby and was quickly snapped up by Brigham Young University on a scholarship.

He would go on to star for its rugby team, leading them to four national championships during his time there.

His exploits didn't go unnoticed in the NFL and was signed to the Arizona Cardinals' practice squad for the 2015 season.

Lasike was a stand-out rugby and football player for BYU.
Lasike was a stand-out rugby and football player for BYU. Photo credit: Getty

Lasike never dreamed he would make a return to rugby, but is relieved with the decision to swap the gridiron for the rugby field.

"It's funny, because this stuff never crossed my mind when I was playing football, and part of that is because I was just so busy," Lasike told the Rugby Today website.

"It's such a stressful industry; you really don't have time to think about things outside of football.

"As I've had more time to reflect on what I want to do it's kind of jumpstarted and sparked up that interest that I've always had, which is to play rugby professionally."

Lasike will be under the guidance of former Springboks assistant Gary Gold, who took the reins as head coach of the Eagles at the start of the year.

Gold has made it clear he is already looking ahead to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, suggesting Lasike's inclusion may not be just a one-off.

"I think we have an exciting group of players who are keen to perform at the ARC and out themselves forward as strong options for the programme moving forward," he told USA rugby website.

Lasike could well make his USA debut in their first game of their Americas Rugby Championship campaign against an Argentina XV side on February 5 (NZT).

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