BYU Rugby Student Athletes Excel On and Off the Pitch

Sterling Paulson (left) and Josef Jolissaint (right) excel in the classroom and are pillars of success for the National Champion BYU Rugby program.
Sterling Paulson (left) and Josef Jolissaint (right) excel in the classroom and are pillars of success for the National Champion BYU Rugby program.

Provo, UT—The BYU Rugby program is best known for its status as the winner of four national championships since 2009, including the last three consecutively.

What is less known to the general public, but perhaps equally as impressive is the fact that the team has many student-athletes whose talents extend beyond the field.

The Fall Semester is soon to finish before the Christmas holiday and all BYU students are in the middle of completing their academic studies with hours of rigorous written and oral final examinations.

BYU Rugby’s student athletes are not immune to these academic rigors and on the sum excel in the classroom just as they do on the rugby pitch with a team average academic GPA of 3.45.

Considering that 2014 incoming BYU freshman averaged a 3.85 and an ACT score of 28 in high school the title of being a “student-athlete” isn’t bandied about lightly by the BYU Rugby coaching staff.

“It’s why they’re here,” said BYU head coach David Smyth of his players’ academic responsibilities, “They’re here to excel in the classroom, graduate and go on to become positive contributing members to society vocationally while also being good husbands and fathers. Our players are the pure definition of a student-athlete because they don’t work as hard as they do for the fame or the money. They are here to learn and grow and if they so happen to play championship level rugby, then so be it.”

One of those players contributing to the Cougars’ championship efforts over the last three years has been Sterling Paulson, a senior from Ohio.

Paulson with the BYU team at last year's Red Rock Invitational in Mesquite, NV
Paulson with the BYU team at last year's Red Rock Invitational in Mesquite, NV

Paulson is studying Public Health and was a mere single incorrect question away from a perfect score on the September 2014 Law School Admission Test (LSAT)—his final score of 179 placed him in the national 99.9th percentile.

Paulson achieved this test score amidst a fall semester where he was enrolled with an 18-credit class load—the maximum allowed by BYU.

Paulson got involved in rugby while he was still a teenager in Ohio, and ended up playing on the Ohio All-State teams his junior and senior years. After holding a full-time job and exploring his interests through an internship after high school, he applied to and was accepted at BYU in 2011.

He said that his decision to attend BYU has been highly rewarding and very influential in his personal development in and out of the classroom but hasn’t come without its sacrifices.

“Success on and off the field has led me to occasionally come up short in the areas of sleep and my social life,” Paulson joked, “But the friendships and experience I’ve had by being part of this rugby program have been well worth it.”

Paulson’s teammate Josef Jolissaint, a senior from Maryland studying Exercise Science, was recently accepted into medical school and sports a 4.0 GPA as a BYU student-athlete. Jolissaint is also an anatomy lab TA, and both he and Paulson are involved in tutoring fellow student-athletes, volunteer work, and academic research with their BYU professors.

Jolissaint holds the Wasatch Cup after the Cougars' victory of rival Utah last year.
Jolissaint holds the Wasatch Cup after the Cougars' victory of rival Utah last year.

Jolissaint converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 17 because of the influence of a good friend. He originally came to BYU in 2010 to continue his college football career, but he encountered rugby and quickly fell in love with the game.

“The rugby team is a brotherhood,” said Jolissaint. “We are there for each other. We not only work hard and push each other during the week, but we also show up at 5:30 a.m. for our Saturday practices. We travel together and play together. We study on the bus. We work hard. We’re happy for any success whether it’s athletic, social or academic.”

Both were quick to thank their coaches and teammates for their support in balancing academic and athletic pursuits.

Jolissaint said, “The coaches always tell us: ‘As much as we value athletics, we also value academics and we want the players to make success in school a priority.’”

Paulson plans to study administrative law. Jolissaint wants to be a doctor like his father. Both student-athletes said the key to their success was persistence and perspective.

“It is important to keep a long-term perspective and have short- and long-term goals,” said Paulson.

The prevailing view of student-athletes in the world of major collegiate sports is that they are much more athlete than student, and often unmotivated academically.

Student-athletes like Paulson and Jolissaint and the others on the BYU Rugby team buck that prevailing perspective by continuing to establish a reputation for success both on the rugby pitch and in the classroom.

Paulson, Jolissaint and the rest of the BYU Rugby team begin their 2015 season in earnest January 10th against Arizona State in St. George, UT.

For more details and the complete 2015 schedule, please visit http://Rugby.BYU.edu or follow the team on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.