PROVO — Freshman Jonny Linehan enjoyed a remarkable first year with the BYU rugby team, and he has been the talk of the town since his championship-winning performance against Cal on May 4. Deseret News reporter Brandon Gurney caught up with Linehan to learn more about his background and how he's enjoying his newfound fame.
What brought you to BYU all the way from New Zealand?
I really had no intention of attending BYU or playing rugby for them until serving my (LDS) mission to Australia. I had a companion who really put the idea in my head and it sort of stuck with me up to the point where I attended general conference in the state of Utah in October of 2012.
During my time in Utah I attended some training sessions BYU had and was really impressed with the quality of rugby they play and just wanted to be a part of it. I wasn’t sure if the quality of rugby in the (United States) was going to be all that good, but they certainly play some great rugby here. I was able to qualify for BYU, which wasn’t easy, enrolled last January, and I couldn’t be more happy to be here.
What do you like most about BYU?
BYU has quickly become a very special place for me. The school is very challenging and much harder than anything I’ve experienced, but I like that it’s challenging and it’s forced me to become a lot more studious and that will benefit me for the rest of my life. I learned how to manage my time a bit on my mission and without that experience I really don’t think I could have made it here at BYU. I’m just so thankful that everything worked out and I’m able to be here.
You obviously enjoyed a great deal of success as a first-year player. What was the reason for that success?
I had great coaches and teammates that took me in from day one and helped me every step of the way. BYU rugby is a great community of people who really care for one another and support each other. I’ve just benefited by being a part of the team.
It hasn’t all been easy and I had to learn a different position than I was used to, but coaches knew what they were doing and I learned the position well and really improved throughout the season, I feel.
You were obviously the hero of the championship match against Cal. Describe how that whole experience felt and what it meant to you?
What that experience taught me is that hard work really does pay off. Winning doesn’t just happen, but if you put in the work and dedicate yourself — like I tried to do all year — great things can happen. The feeling of winning a national championship was unlike any feeling I’ve ever had and I hope to experience that feeling again over the next few years I’m at BYU.
What do you hope to accomplish during your next three years at BYU and beyond? Could playing American football for BYU be in your plans?
I really would love the opportunity to play professional rugby back home in New Zealand, Australia or even in Europe. I love the game so much and I’m passionate about the sport, but education is my main priority right now. You need a bit of luck to make it at the next level, but I know that getting a good education at BYU will be something I can fall back on if things don’t work out playing professionally.
I’ve talked to Paul Lasike (a BYU rugby star who played for BYU's football team last fall) about playing American football and some others, and I’ve come to understand the sport a bit since being here at BYU. Most people think I’d fit in best as a kicker, but if I chose to give American football a try, I think I’d want to play safety. I don’t know if I’d be as good of a kicker as everyone seems to think after my winning kick against Cal, but I think playing safety is where I could really help out. Rugby is the sport I’m passionate about, however, and playing rugby is where my heart is.