BYU freshman Tua Laei joins the USA Under-20's National Team this month as the Junior Eagles look to take on other top international sides in the IRB's Junior World Rugby Trophy, which is set to kick-off here in Utah on Monday.
Laei's sports pedigree isn't short despite his short time at BYU. The freshman was one of the top-netting gridiron rushers for the state of Utah at Riverton High School his senior year and Laei starred for Lowland Rugby Club netting him High School All-American honors in 2011 where he toured with the USA HS AA's to South Africa.
Arriving at BYU as a graduate of the BYU Rugby Sports Camp in 2011 Laei brought speed and athleticism to an already potent backline headlined by current USA National Team member scrumhalf Shaun Davies and football cross-over center Paul Lasike.
Laei started the 2012 BYU season fast scoring in each appearance for the Cougars and ended being the second highest try-scorer for BYU's D1-A season.
In fact, it was Laei who scored a try and set up another in the Cougars' 2012 championship bout against Arkansas State.
With his strong performances with BYU the USA U20's head coach Scott Lawrence took notice and pulled Laei into the Junior Eagles following their tour of Canada two weeks ago which saw the U20's beat their northern rivals in two successive matches.
The addition of Laei is something that Lawrence feels will be a big part of the Junior Eagles' success in JWRT play.
"Tua is an exciting player," Lawrence commented, "Who we're looking to for creation of scoring opportunities and aggressive defense. Tua's a dedicated young athlete, grounded, humble, and always searching for ways to improve. We expect big things."
BYU's head coach David Smyth knows similarly glowed about his freshman.
"Tua was a bright spot for us this season," Smyth said, "He had his struggles early and he worked his way through them to end up being a big part of our success this year. If he keeps working hard he'll have a lot of rugby left to play over his career."
With the top under-20 international tournament for countries of the USA's caliber being played in Laei's backyard, the Riverton, UT native is excited to have his family and friends support he and his team as the Junior Eagles look to win the JWRT and advance to next year's IRB Junior World Championship.
"It will mean a lot to play these games in Utah," Laei said of the JWRT, "Because I will have alot of support from my family and friends. You can't beat family and friend support."
With his excitement centered on the Junior Eagles' first match on Monday Laei felt his freshman season taught him a number of lessons that will prepare him for his debut with the U20's.
"BYU helped me step up my game up alot," Laei said,"I learned tons of things while playing with BYU this past year. Being patient is one of them and I feel like I can apply all that I learned to the U20's and help out as much as I can for the team."
The Junior Eagles and Laei are set to compete in Pool A against Russia, Tonga and Chile. Pool B will see Canada, Georgia, Zimbabwe and Japan compete for the JWRT title.
The first match for the USA is set for Monday at 6pm MT. All tournament matches will be at the newly renovated Murray Rugby Stadium in Murray, UT. Admission is $5 per person.
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