4 years ago
Sarah Larson
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After suffering an injury in high school, AJ Paradowski gave rugby a try and never looked back

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On the rugby field, AJ Paradowski’s red Mohawk and muscular presence don’t immediately evoke scenes of him sitting at a desk programming on a computer, but that’s exactly where he likes to find himself off the field.

Paradowski, computer science and ATEC senior, is a hooker for the rugby team. A hooker is in charge of using his legs to bring the ball back toward his team while in a scrum, a pile-up of players struggling for control of the ball.

Though rugby is rough-and-tumble in nature, Paradowski does not come across that way. He doesn’t describe himself as a big sports person, although he grew up playing them. As a kid, he always knew he enjoyed video games and computer science, so programming o create video games came naturally as a career path.

While he played baseball most of his childhood, Paradowski’s father pushed him to play football and even encouraged him to attend a college with a good football team. However, Paradowski decided he didn’t want to sacrifice academics for a sports scholarship, so he chose to attend UTD for its ATEC program, double majoring with computer science to please his parents.

It was in his last year of high school that Paradowski was introduced to the sport of rugby. After breaking his leg playing football his junior year, his coach encouraged him to try another sport. One of his teachers was the rugby coach and persuaded him to play rugby instead.

“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing a sport,” he said. “Rugby is high-tempered during the game, but afterwards you come up and give each other a hug, buy each other a beer or just hang out and talk. The rugby culture in that regard separates it from anything else I’ve ever done.”

When he started college, Paradowski and some friends decided to bring back rugby, which had been dormant on campus since the late ‘90s, but it slowly lost its following that year. It wasn’t until old captain Nathan Sohadaseni and current captain Dominic Prestia helped it gain new members the next year that the team was back on the field.

Highly motivated, knowing they were up against bigger and more experienced teams, UTD rugby has earned the title of state champions for the last two seasons. Unfortunately, the team’s second consecutive undefeated regular season ended with a loss to Denver University during the Cowboy Cup on March 24.

“We are always a smaller team when we go out and play,” he said. “Everyone is always bigger than us, and they’re almost always more athletic. We have heart. We play very hard just because we know no one has given us anything for the most part. So that helps us out a lot more than size ever could.”

He said his red and black Mohawk was inspired by his favorite fighter, English mixed martial artist Dan Hardy. Paradowski said rugby is a mental sport, and while the look of the Mohawk can be intimidating for the other team, he said it also helps put a target on his back.

“A lot of people tell me after the game that they saw me out on the field, and they just wanted to hit me hard,” he said. “And I tell them, ‘Yeah, I know, that’s why it’s there.’ If I can get someone to come at me as hard as they can, and they miss or I hit them back, it will just shut them down.”

Paradowski works in the ATEC building as a programmer, where having his red coif isn’t a problem, a position he said his friends are envious of.

The red Mohawk will have to go someday as he grows older, and so will playing rugby — but programming for video games is here to stay. Along with programming, Paradowski said he also hopes to find time to learn how to play the guitar. He said he admires those who can inspire people with their music.

“That’s one of the reasons I want to get into (programming) is to speak to people,” he said. “You can deliver messages to massive amounts of people. The ability to do that is something amazing — speaking to people through your art.”