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Switching from football to rugby

UW star linebacker Psalm Fa’afoisia Pulemagafa Wooching, pictured with mom Shannon and dad Paulo, has decided to forgo an NFL career to pursue his dreams of playing rugby.  [photo: courtesy]
Samoan NFL prospect has change of heart

University of Washington linebacker Psalm Fa’afoisia Pulemagafa Wooching was predicted to be a late round pick for the upcoming NFL draft in April; but the young Samoan has shocked everyone — even his parents — with the announcement that he will pursue rugby instead.

Wooching led the Huskies in sacks in 2016 but the 6’4”- 231lb. outside linebacker from Kailua, Kona, Hawai’i will be hanging up his shoulder pads and helmet for a pair of short shorts and rugby boots.

“I grew up playing rugby in Samoa and I love the sport,” said Wooching’s father Paulo during an interview with Samoa News over the weekend.

“Halfway through Psalm's last season of football, he mentioned to us (Mom Shannon, sister Hero and myself) that he might not be pursuing an NFL career but rugby instead,” Paulo shared. “Of course, we were all shocked, as he was doing really good with football, seeing his stock rise as an NFL prospect.”

Paulo continued, “We pondered it for the rest of the season, hoping that he might change his mind. He did not. Psalm is the type of person that when he believes in something, he will continue to follow through with it over and over, and won’t be swayed.”

Psalm has played rugby for most of his life and his high school team, the Kona Bulls, were state champions two years in a row. He was also a national champ with the UW Club, during a sevens tournament two years ago.

Recently, Psalm was co-captain for the #4 UW Huskies team that was defeated (7-24) by #1 Alabama during the Chik-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia, crushing the Dawg’s quest of playing for the national championship title.

He helped make UW a title contender, something that hasn’t been a topic of discussion since the 1990s.

Psalm’s aggressiveness on the field has caught the attention of people from the around the world, especially during the Pac-12 championship title game against Colorado where he took out three players with one block on a Pick 6 return, leading to a lopsided 41-10 victory for the Huskies.

Psalm recently received his degree in medical anthropology from UW. “He has worked so hard to be the best teammate, son, friend, brother, and protector he could be,” his dad said. “ Now he needs our support to keep him going to where God is leading him.”

During his college years, Psalm played winger for the Seattle Saracens and during a rugby sevens tournament last summer, he was named tournament MVP.

The road to Psalm’s success started when his father Paulo, who grew up working on a plantation in Samoa with 14 brothers and sisters, departed the island many moons ago. Along the way he met Shannon Hogan and the two eventually married, had Psalm and sister Hero, and made Kona their home.

Psalm grew up not knowing how to speak or read English, and was eventually diagnosed with dyslexia. His fearlessness resulted in people calling him a “loose cannon”. But the persistence of his parents, coupled with some good ol’ Samoan upbringing, helped mold the 23-year-old into a leader.

“I have come to the conclusion that God is up to something with my son,” Paulo told Samoa News. “The obvious path is not necessarily the right path for him in this situation. Only God can see what I cannot see. I can only hold on to that faith, knowing that His plans are for Psalm to prosper, to give him a hope and a future.”

Paulo continued, “Sometimes our ways are not God’s. I have to support Psalm 100% because he is my son. We know him better than anyone out there and he will succeed at whatever he puts his mind into. He has been proving people wrong over and over again, throughout his journey from playing football since high school, until now.”

“People will say that it is very difficult — and almost impossible — to get noticed or get a scholarship to play college football, let alone a D-1 full scholarship. But he was noticed alright, getting a full ride to the University of Washington.”

Even now, according to Paulo, “People are still questioning Psalm’s change of heart, switching from football to rugby, from making money to no money and so forth. All I can say is that God has a plan for my son, and He seems to have given him that immovable confidence that everything is going to work out fine.”

Paulo concluded, “One thing for sure is that Psalm is an incredibly talented rugby player, and the sky is the limit for him. He has given five years to football, and now he will follow his heart to play the sport that started it all for him.”

Even if Psalm wasn’t selected during the draft, football commentators were optimistic that he had a good chance of getting picked up by a team as an undrafted free agent.

On his Twitter account, Psalm wrote, “I’ve been in deep thought and prayers about whether I wanted to continue to play football and I’ve come to a conclusion that it is time to turn the page in my life. I will be exchanging shoulder pads for short shorts and rugby boots. My first love and sport I excelled in was rugby, and it is time for me to follow my heart.”

Psalm fell short of winning the NCAA national championship title but he has his eyes set on an even bigger prize: an Olympic gold medal. “My goal is to be able to represent my country while playing rugby, and then on to playing in the next Olympics. This has been a dream of mine for quite some time and I will do anything to accomplish it.”

Good Luck Psalm!