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NFL's Lasike awed by All Blacks presence

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 9/11/2016 Angelo Risso

Clad in his Blues Super Rugby jumper, Chicago Bears fullback Paul Lasike just can't stop talking about Tana Umaga.

Growing up in Auckland at the peak of the ex-All Black captain's powers, the 26-year-old Lasike would run around in the backyard with his nine siblings, imitating his hero.

Yet despite his dream of pulling on the black jumper, Lasike's life took a decidedly different path - all the way to the National Football League.

"Tana and Jonah Lomu were like my guys man, I was so young," Lasike told NZN.

"Because of the time difference, I barely ever watch (rugby) live now, but I always watch the highlights and score updates."

Lasike, a Mormon by faith, played junior rugby at centre for Hamilton's Church College and Waikato age-group sides before taking up a scholarship at Brigham Young University in Utah.

Aged just 18, the 117kg Lasike completed his two-year Mormon mission in Alabama before being asked to join the university's American football team.

He hasn't looked back since.

Signed by the Bears at the start of the 2015 campaign from the Arizona Cardinals, Lasike spent a year on the side's practice squad before being promoted to the active roster this year.

He has since fallen back down to the practice squad after four NFL appearances, but said the yo-yo experience was part and parcel with life in the NFL.

Lasike's Bears have struggled for form, winning just two of their first eight games and languishing at the bottom of the National Football Conference's North division.

"I've been up and down twice this season, up, down, up and down again," Lasike said.

"They explained to me, they have other plans when they put me back down on practice squad, they have injuries or not having too much of a good season, so we're going to try this out.

"I've kind of gotten used to it."

Lasike, who hails from a Tongan family, was invited to a traditional Maori powhiri last Thursday at the wharenui in Chicago's Field Museum.

The welcoming was put on for the visiting Maori All Blacks, in Chicago for their clash with USA and for whom Umaga is assistant coach.

Lasike also enjoyed a meal earlier in the week with former Waikato juniors teammate Tawera Kerr-Barlow, in town for the All Blacks' loss to Ireland.

He said he was enjoying life in the Windy City but intended to bring his wife Ani and two children, aged one and two, back to New Zealand one day.

"It's cool to be able to represent a little bit here in Chicago," Lasike said.

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