Meet Tyrese Johnson-Fisher, the YouTube rugby sensation chasing an All-American dream

What's the biggest adjustment between rugby and football? (3:03)

Tyrese Johnson-Fisher talks about how he's finding changing from rugby to football, ahead of the Under Armour All-America game with the top high school prospects heading to college. (3:03)

For someone so young, Tyrese Johnson-Fisher knows how to catch the eye. The 18-year-old from South London has a highlight reel from a rugby match that has amassed 2.5 million views on YouTube. Now he's preparing to perform on an even grander stage -- in a sport he has never played before.

Johnson-Fisher is in Orlando, Florida, for the Under Armour All-American game, a showcase for high school football players in front of college scouts. He is the first non-American to be invited to participate in the game, to be televised by ESPN on Thursday. The rugby-centre-turned-running-back hopes his dreams of playing NCAA football can be turned into reality.

Even before the game, Johnson-Fisher already has an offer from Coastal Carolina, thanks in no small part to that rugby showreel, which showed his incredible speed and footwork as he scored four tries for Oakham in the Under-15 Vase semifinal of the NatWest Schools Cup in March 2015.

"It's a step-by-step process," Johnson-Fisher told ESPN on a phone call from Florida. "The first thing is making sure I solidify myself a couple more offers, so I can make a sound decision when it comes to picking where I want to go to college. My biggest thing is I want to get to the [NFL]. All I have to do is keep doing what I am doing, and hopefully one day that will come.

"The best of the best is in the NFL, but there are loads of steps in the way. The first step is playing with the best of the best of high school, then it's playing with the best of the best in college, and then it is the NFL. I am just trying to make sure that I am the best with each ball that I get."

His persistence through hours of practice on the field has been mirrored by an element of luck off it. He started out playing soccer, but on a trip to Dubai and on the suggestion of a stranger that his pace would transfer to rugby, he took up the sport. From there came viral internet fame and the invite to Orlando this week.

While the NFL is the long-term aim, he also wants to show people from his hometown that they can cast aside the stereotypes thrown their way. "Stereotypes of a typical boy from South London is literally drugs, knives and guns, but there is more to us than that," he said. "We are the same as everybody else and we can end up in really good positions in life, not necessarily jail. That is what a lot of people get.

"From there it is just using this to show people that we are more than the stereotypes and we can actually be successful and not only in sport in England but sport across the world. I am trying to create a platform to show people where I am from that we can do what we set our minds to."


#TBT: Under-15 rugby player goes viral with 4-try game

Tyrese Johnson-Fisher is about to play in the Under Armour All-America game in Orlando, nearly 2 years after he went viral with an extraordinary performance in a school's rugby game.

His platform now is a U.S. national TV audience on Thursday, with the game also available in the UK on ESPN Player at 11 p.m. GMT (6 p.m. ET). He has gone through footage and highlights of running backs Le'Veon Bell and Adrian Peterson, his favourite NFL players and sees every opportunity as a chance to learn. His mother and London Warriors coach Tony Allen, who has been preparing him for this test, are accompanying him, but the speedster concedes there is a huge difference between training and actually playing with and against the best in high school football.

"It is all good watching it and playing it on a computer game, but until you are there, padded up in helmets, trying to make plays and guys around you trying to make plays as well, it's just -- let the best man win, really.

"It has been really difficult because I have been training in England, but training in England is nothing [compared] to playing with the best of the best over here."

Johnson-Fisher has had to get used to running routes, learning plays and taking stock of situations before turning on the speed. He said he's had to control the urge to "let my legs go" during plays to be more controlled -- in keeping with the patient running style of Bell. But the one-on-one coaching for this game has helped, he said. So have the other players, who created a moment he'll savour for some time.

"My biggest thing during training was when I caught my first touchdown," he says. "That was one of the best things I have ever done in my life. It wasn't just me. I had the whole of the offense come over, and even the defense, to say, 'Well done, lad. You worked for this and this is your reward.'

"My biggest thing has been trying to learn what people are actually saying. Everybody [talks in] slang. I have no idea what the slang actually means. It was a bit difficult for me, but it was fun for me. These are the guys I never would have met if I didn't come to this country."

While teammates and opposition players alike will likely enrol at universities this month, Johnson-Fisher will return to London to finish A-Levels in business, economics and history. He will likely enrol in the U.S. in July, but where that is could yet be determined by his performance in Orlando.

"I don't want to have any regrets," he said. "I try not to be complacent. There is never a point in your career where you can say you have done amazing. You can only say that when you look back over your career when you have retired, you've made it [as a] professional, that you can say 'you know what, I did great'. The way I see it is I'm not successful until I have made it properly."