By Ben Stanley
Flanked by their partner and kids, there will be plenty of Kiwi teachers getting up early - or staying up late - to watch the Rugby World Cup this September, October and November.
Less than two years ago, Auckland's Paul Lasike was expecting to be one of them.
Having gone from Waikato youth rugby rep and Mormon missionary in Alabama, to one of a small clutch of New Zealanders to play in the high pressure, high profile world of the NFL, he already had a cracking yarn to tell.
Back then, the former Chicago Bears fullback, who appeared in ten games during the 2016 regular season, considered the thrills, spills and off field maneuvering of professional sport behind him.
After a stretch in construction, Lasike started thinking about jobs as a PE teacher in suburban Salt Lake City.
Though playing rugby for the Utah Warriors in the newly formed Major League Rugby, a quieter family life with his Brazilian wife Ani, and kids Kaue, 5 and Yara, 3, beckoned.
That was all until the second act of Lasike's sporting life began; one that will deliver him to the rugby paddocks of Japan next month as a crucial member of the United States' World Cup campaign.
"Mate, it's been a rollercoaster [and] it's been unexpected as well, to be completely honest with you," Lasike, who also plays for London glamour club Harlequins, told the New Zealand Herald from a national team camp in Denver, Colorado recently.
When Lasike takes the field against England in Sapporo on September 22, it is understood that he'll do what All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu would have if he'd accepted the Dallas Cowboys' famed contract offer in the mid-90s – and become the first person ever to play both test rugby and in the NFL.
Though talented Scottish captain Gavin Hastings once played in the NFL's European offshoot in the mid-90s, only former Wasps winger Christian Wade comes closest to Lasike's approaching achievement.
A two-test English winger who made the 2013 British and Irish Lions, Wade, yet to play in the NFL himself, is currently undergoing pre-season training with the Buffalo Bills.
"I was planning on going back into teaching; you know, teaching PE at a high school in Utah," Lasike says.
"I got my degree in teaching at college. [My wife and I] were having a debate on whether I should give rugby a go, or should I just hang it up - that's what I mean by unexpected."
"A year and a half ago, when I came back to rugby [with Utah], I wouldn't envisaged seeing this – the World Cup. It's been exciting, to say the least."
Lasike has made a habit of being a late bloomer. After impressing a college football coach with his gym workouts at Brigham Young University, where he was attending on a rugby scholarship, in 2012, he became a star for the Utah school's gridiron side despite knowing little about the sport.
Between the two sports, the former Church College student also juggled a two-year mission to Alabama.
Undrafted out of college, Lasike was offered a pre-season contract by the Arizona Cardinals in May 2015.
Though cut four months later, Lasike, who once made a New Zealand rugby Under-17s squad alongside future All Blacks Julian Savea and Charlie Ngatai, found a home at the struggling Bears.
After a few visa issues, the Kiwi was signed to the side's practice squad before making his NFL debut against the Houston Texans on September 11, 2016.
Though paid week-to-week under the threat of waivers, NFL practice squad members who make it through an entire season are paid around NZ$200,000. Under the current Super Rugby salary cap, that's around the same retainer for the competition's top players in New Zealand.
After nine more appearances as a fullback, a throwback position in American Football most similar to rugby's No 8, totaling eight yards with three carries, Lasike was cut by the Bears for good in May 2017.
Though a second sporting career is new territory for any athlete, unorthodox post-NFL careers have been common amongst league's Kiwi pioneers.
Christchurch's Riki Ellison, a Super Bowl winner with the San Francisco 49ers, is now a missile defence lobbyist in Washington DC, while Pukekohe's David Dixon, a long-time guard with the Minnesota Vikings, drove a bus in suburban Minneapolis for many years after his retirement.
Selected for the Eagles through residency, Lasike made his test debut off the bench against Chile on February 21, 2018 – but put himself on the map for European club scouts the following June when the Eagles beat Russia, Scotland and Canada in successive weekends.
The barnstorming Kiwi-born second-five was immense in all three tests. Several clubs began chasing him, with Harlequins the most eager. By early July, he'd inked a two-year contract with the London glamour club.
Harlequins head coach Paul Gustard told The Times soon after that Lasike was "a player who has enormous game-changing potential."
Former All Black first-five Nick Evans has been working with Lasike, with the club's icon recently been appointed Harlequins backs coach.
"They're such different sports so you can't really transfer too much over, but physicality is definitely one of the biggest similarities between the two," Lasike says of heading back to rugby, after four years away.
"As a fullback [in the NFL], you're basically just running a straight line – and that's what I tried to carry over into rugby.
"Mental toughness is the other thing. Both sports, at the very top level, you have to have the mental toughness to push through."
Lasike's emergence has come at the perfect time for American rugby.
More than a dozen Americans are now plying their trade in the world's top rugby competitions, with Sale's Irish-born first-five AJ MacGinty and Worcester hooker Joe Taufete'e emerging as genuine top-level internationals.
Replacing previous attempts to kick-start American pro rugby, including the recently stuttering PRO Rugby comp, Major League Rugby (MLR) has complimented their rise.
With broadcast backing from CBS Sports, the competition expanded to nine teams this year and looks to have the willpower required to grow the game in the United States. "More guys are playing good rugby on a regular basis, like with the new Major League Rugby here in the US," Lasike says.
"Previously, a lot of the time, they'd just be pulling players off the streets or rubbish club competitions. There's optimism going around [now] and the guys are feeling good."
South African Gary Gold, who replaced former All Black coach John Mitchell two years ago, has been tasked with combining the two groups of players.
With 15 wins in their 20 tests under his guidance, the former Sharks coach and Springboks assistant has produced some head-turning results for the Eagles, too. Their 30-29 victory over Scotland last June was the United States' first over a top tier rugby nation since defeating France 17-3 in 1924.
The States face a brutal draw in Japan with pool matches against England, France, Argentina and Tonga, but Lasike believes they can be definite spoilers this year.
"Our first goal will be England," Lasike, whose niggling Harlequins injuries have ruled him out of the Eagles' Pacific Nations Cup test against Canada and Samoa over the last fortnight, says.
"As a team goal, it's to make it out of the pool stages and go from there. We're all excited and we're all hungry.
"There's something to be said about being an underdog, you know. No one gave us a chance against Scotland last year.
"You never know what can happen. We obviously know it'll be an uphill battle, but we're ready for it.
"If circumstances are right and the boys are clicking, anything can happen."
Lasike knows that better than most. Conveying the twists and turns of the journey to family and friends back home has been hard, he says.
That quieter life that was oh-so-close not long ago still intrigues, but getting the chance to get off the couch and into the arena? Lasike reckons you've got to take the opportunities that come your way.
"Some people say 'that's so awesome. You've been in Chicago, Utah and England, and you've been able to travel with sport," he says.
"Yeah, it is cool but at the same time, sometimes you wish you were like the Average Joe with your career, settled down and knowing where you're going to be for the next ten or fifteen years. But we've embraced the challenge that life brings us."