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The Counties Manukau Steelers of the ITM Cup officially confirmed the signing of Kutztown University lock Mike Lawrenson. Lawrenson’s contract is guaranteed for the duration of the 2013 season. Competition starts on August 15th and can run into October, when the finals take place. Preseason camp begins July 15th, and should be an eye-opening experience for Lawrenson as he will try to get comfortable with his new team.
“I feel blessed every day when I think about how many people have supported me throughout my journey, says Lawrenson. “Coaches, family, and freinds have been instrumental in my growth and success as a rugby player. Dr. Greg Jones has been my biggest influence in life and taught me that ‘the secret to success is to go to work every day!’”
Counties Manukau is based out of Pukekohe, New Zealand and participates in the ITM Cup. The ITM Cup is the top domestic professional league in New Zealand. It serves as a feeder system into Super Rugby, opening up many opportunities to players coming through.
This opportunity came to fruition for Lawrenson at the 2014 Collegiate Rugby Championship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where Kutztown lost a close match to Cal in the final. Tana Umaga, the head coach of Counties Manukau, was present at the tournament, conducting a clinic for youth players as well as evaluating talent. He was impressed that a 6’7”, 245-pound lock was playing 7s. With Umaga in search for a mobile, high work-rate lock who can hit an abundance of breakdowns, Lawrenson was perfect fit.
Lawrenson grew up in Durban, South Africa, where he played rugby for Durban High School. Upon graduating high school in South Africa, he participated in an exchange program for one year where he attended Wayzata High School in Minnesota. He played rugby for the Plymouth Panthers and participated at the Challenge Cup in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with the Minnesota All-Star Team. During his time in Minnesota he also played with the Metropolis men’s club. After his exchange culminated, he traveled back to South Africa for six months where he encountered his first experience with an extremely high-level of rugby. He played for Collegians in his hometown of Durban, which is an U-21 team that serves as a feeder program for the Sharks of the Super XV. Lawrenson aspired to spend more time in America and eventually found a home at Kutztown University, where he was offered a Full Academic Scholarship. Lawrenson helped Kutztown rise to the national contender it is today.
Scoring two tries and starting in all three games for the Collegiate All-Americans this past month, Lawrenson showed well at a big stage once again. “All American rugby tours are where I developed and learned most of my rugby skills,” says Lawrenson. “Matt Sherman and the rest of the coaching staff do an amazing job at helping players understand the game, expand their skillset and challenge themselves to leave everything on the field for their country. It truly is an honor every time I step out to play for Mr. Sherman and the All-American Collegiate team.”
As for Lawrenson’s future goals, he hopes to play for the US Eagles in the future. He has been in contact with Eagles’ head coach Mike Tolkin, who will continue to follow his development. After living in the United States for an extended period of time, USA Rugby informed Lawrenson that he is eligible wear the US jersey. That information brings Lawrenson one step closer to his goal of playing rugby for the United States.