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West Jordan's Mike Palefau had always considered football his favorite sport.

He played for Cottonwood High School, at Kahuku High School in Hawaii and then at Southern Utah University. Although he liked rugby, and played it for fun on the weekends, it was always secondary to football.

Then, his big break came. While playing with the Provo Steelers rugby team in a national tournament in Park City, scouts from the USA Rugby national team took note.

"I lucked out, just that I found rugby and enjoyed it so much," Palefau said. He still had a year of college eligibility left, and there were two more football games to be played with the Thunderbirds in the 2004 season. But when the national team invited him to play on a tour through Europe, he jumped at the chance.

"I just fell in love with the game," Palefau said.

The national team toured through Ireland and Italy, and Palefau got to see what rugby means to fans in those countries.

"I got to see it for myself, in countries where rugby is huge," Palefau said. "That's where I fell in love with it."

Now, Palefau is pushing for a career in rugby. He would like to play professionally in Europe, and he got the best exposure of his career at the recent Barclay's Churchill Cup international championship.

National team coach Peter Thorburn said Palefau has a lot of potential.

"Mike is an untapped talent," Thorburn said. "Watch him run; I'm very impressed with his abilities."

Palefau said he touches the ball more often and is put in more exciting situations than when he played football.

"Rugby's so much different from football," Palefau said. "There's no set offense and no set defense. In rugby, everyone plays offense and defense."

Since becoming a member of the national team, Palefau said his skills have improved tremendously.

"I'm not too nervous anymore," Palefau said. "Over the past year, I've gotten a lot more confident. When I look back to where I was last year, it's been a complete turnaround. I've learned so much in the past year."

When not playing with the national team, Palefau plays with the Haggis Rugby Club in Park City. An amateur team, Haggis plays in a national league that allows Palefau to travel around the country to play his sport. But professional rugby in Europe is the main goal.

The USA Rugby team now lists only five players that play professionally, and all of them are on teams in Europe. It's a situation Palefau would love to be in, if only that he can concentrate on having fun with his sport.

"I just try to go out there and have fun," Palefau said. "That's when I play my best, is when I'm relaxed and not really thinking about anything."

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