The Utah Warriors have signed former Louisville Cardinals defensive lineman Pio Vatuvei for the 2018 Major League Rugby season. A native of Hayward, California, the 23-year-old played football for the Washington Huskies before transferring to Louisville, where he also played rugby in 2016. Vatuvei was given a tryout with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers after being passed over in the 2016 entry draft. He did not ultimately win a contract.
Having slimmed down considerably from nearly 136 kg (300 lbs) to 114 kg (250 lbs), Vatuvei played as a midfielder for the Cardinals before switching to rugby league with the Jacksonville Axemen. He was then selected for the USA Hawks and made his international debut against Canada at Lamport Stadium on September 16.
In his return to rugby union Vatuvei will attempt the conversion to the front row where the Warriors intend to use him as a prop. He had previously played as a loose forward in age grade rugby with the Hayward Griffins, taking a five-year break from the game to pursue his professional football ambitions.
Of Tongan ancestry, Vatuvei will join fellow Utah signings Lote Tu’ipulotu and Saia Uhila in a team that will feature a heavy Pacific Island presence. New Zealand-born midfielder Paul Lasike, another American football standout, has also signed while others such as Fijian-born brothers Jared and Josh Whippy are expected to be confirmed in the coming weeks.