When Psalm Wooching and Paul Lasike (main image) took to the field to win their first Eagles' caps at the Titan Stadium in Fullerton, California, a week ago, it further endorsed their decision last year to forego a future in the National Football League (NFL) and return to their true sporting passion: rugby.
Instant fame and fortune were within reach of both players, but 24-year-old Wooching (pictured below), who first started playing rugby in Hawaii aged 12 before the NFL scouts came calling, says he feels richer in other ways, namely having the opportunity to represent his country on the international stage.
After a successful stint with the USA Selects side in the World Rugby Americas Pacific Challenge, the former Washington Huskies linebacker was named in the Eagles’ squad for the European tour last November.
“The moment that I’d been waiting for,” he said. “To think that out of all people in this country, I was fortunate enough to represent it, was a tremendous blessing.”
“Memories and experiences like these are why I wanted to give up football. This is just the beginning.”
While they made their Eagles debuts in the same match and both crossed over to rugby from the same sport, the path Lasike took to test rugby was different to that of Wooching.
Lasike first caught the eye of NFL scouts at Brigham Young University in Utah and was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Arizona Cardinals in 2015. He then spent two seasons in and out of the Chicago Bears practice squad, before enjoying a short stint on the active roster.
But, as a New Zealand native, Auckland-born Lasike has always been a rugby player at heart.
After replacing Josh Whippy on the wing in the dying stages against Chile, Lasike made his presence felt with a mazy run setting up one try before dotting down himself.
“It’s awesome to be playing rugby again,” said Lasike. “It has been hard work getting back into the swing of things, but it’s been really fun. Earning my first cap was an honour and to have the boys there with me when I received it was really cool.”
Wooching and Lasike were two of several new players who stood out during Saturday’s test against Chile. USA Sevens and San Diego Legion’s player Malon Al-Jiboori also scored a try and his first test in 15s, while Dylan Audsley – who made his debut on a fortnight earlier against Argentina XV – bagged a brace.
With such talent coming through, the future looks bright for the Eagles.
Photo credit: Paul Rudman/KLC Fotos