Former rugby star Paul Lasike trying to make it in the NFL with Arizona Cardinals

May 9, 2015, 9:16 AM | Updated: 9:16 am

TEMPE, Ariz. — Chances are if you have ever watched rugby, you at some point thought to yourself that it was a lot like football.

From a physical and violence standpoint, maybe. But otherwise, the sports are very different.

Paul Lasike, who is trying to make the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted rookie free agent, knows that better than anyone.

The Auckland, New Zealand native was an All-American while at BYU for his skill on the rugby pitch, but now he’s trying to make a career as a football player.

“Nah, not at all,” he said Friday when asked if he saw himself in this position a few years ago. “I was playing rugby at BYU so I didn’t even think about playing football, so let alone giving the NFL a shot.”

But that’s exactly what he’s doing, and he is one of roughly 50 players in Tempe this weekend trying to impress the coaching staff enough into giving them a chance. For Lasike, he’s getting a shot because he gave football a chance.

“The rugby team, they lift with the strength and conditioning coaches at college, at BYU, and they were just like, ‘Hey man, you’ve got to give football a shot,'” he said. “And so I did, the last three years — sophomore, junior, senior — I gave it a shot and the snowball just got bigger and bigger until I landed out here. It’s been awesome.”

Playing primarily at fullback for the Cougars, Lasike carried the ball 171 times for 843 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding 31 receptions for 322 yards and two scores to his ledger.

The transition from rugby to football may not be as challenging from a physical standpoint, but for Lasike, a self-described slow learner, understanding the Cardinals’ system has been a bear.

“And that’s the fastest way to kind of get cut or do bad, is not to learn fast — and so it’s been pretty stressful,” he said. “Just been putting my head in the books every chance that I can get so I don’t stuff up on the field.”

Part of the issue, he said, is that at BYU, his job as a fullback was basically there to stay in one place before the snap and then “bang helmets” after the snap. But in Arizona, he said there seems to be a lot of movements and motions, which is something he is not familiar with.

However, while maybe difficult to learn, Lasike said he likes what the Cardinals are asking him to do. And though there’s a learning curve, it’s one he’s happy to try to conquer.

“Oh man, all the stars are just flying in my head,” he said. “It’s awesome. It’s such an awesome experience to be here.”

It’s funny how things work.

Lasike admitted he was reluctant to give football a shot three years ago, as he wondered if he would be able to pick up the new sport. But here he is, trying to become one of a handful of New Zealanders to play in the NFL.

American football is not exactly a big sport back home, so it’s no shock he never played what they call “gridiron.” But now that he’s into it, it’s very exciting.

“I had a couple people call me and ask me about it, saying, ‘Hey man, you were on the news the other day, saying that you had signed a contract with the Cardinals,'” he said. “It’s freaking awesome.”

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