From Auckland to the Aggies: Ron Tiavaasue becomes beloved teammate at NM State

From Auckland to the Aggies: Ron Tiavaasue becomes beloved teammate at NM State

LYNCHBURG, Va. (KTSM) – It was an all-day trip from Las Cruces to Lynchburg for New Mexico State for Friday’s Conference USA championship game between the Aggies and No. 24 Liberty. For NMSU tight end Ron Tiavaasue, the journey probably didn’t feel that long.

Tiavaasue is here all the way from Auckland, New Zealand, and in his one year at NMSU he has already made a massive impact and endeared himself to the team.

“He’s been a delight to coach,” NMSU head coach Jerry Kill said. “He’s the only person in my career, everyone else calls me coach, but he calls me gramps.”

You have to be a special person and player to earn that right from an old school coach like Kill and few players have earned the respect of their coaches and teammates quite like the Kiwi.

“That’s one of the best guys I’ve ever met. He’s going to be in my wedding one day,” said defensive lineman Izaiah Reed. “That’s my brother. If you need anything on or off the field, he’s always going to have your back. That’s a guy you want to have in the fox hole with you.”

Tiavaasue’s journey to Las Cruces from South Auckland has been a long one. Aggies offensive line coach Andrew Mitchell discovered him at a camp in Australia in 2018, when Ron was still a rugby player and Mitchell was a junior college coach.

“I basically identified him as a pretty high-level athlete that was new to the game,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell saw enough to bring Tiavaasue with him to Snow College in Utah and the first time that Ron ever played American football was there in 2018. He had to make the adjustment on the fly.

“I just knew you couldn’t move before the ball snapped, all the basic stuff. I didn’t know like, face mask and horse collar and stuff like that,” Tiavaasue said.

Growing up playing rugby helped facilitate the change from a skillset and physicality standpoint, but the switch wasn’t always easy.

“The transition was hard. Learning little six-inch steps, shooting the hands. In rugby you want to muscle everybody but in football it’s all about technique as well,” said Tiavaasue.

He’s a Pittsburgh Steelers fan because of Troy Polamalu and at 25 years old, Tiavaasue is now at his fourth school after stops at Snow, Missouri State, Utah State and now NMSU. His life experience draws teammates to him.

“When he speaks there’s almost an instantaneous respect for his body of work and his age, but the way he works and goes about his business as well,” said Mitchell.

Tiavaasue’s versatility from his rugby days make him valuable in a lot of ways to NMSU; on special teams, where he ran a fake punt for a big first down at Auburn; short yardage situations, where he scored a one-yard touchdown vs. Middle Tennessee; and in the passing game. He says he wants to help the Aggies however he can. He’s one of just a handful of Kiwis to ever play American football and it means a lot to him.

That’s a big deal because I’ve got a lot younger guys that message me and say that I’m setting the path. I carry it with me every time I play,” he said.

Iiavaasue said he hasn’t been home to New Zealand or even seen his family since 2019. He hopes to go after the Aggies season is over and he wants to bring a CUSA title back with him when he does.

Tiavaasue and the Aggies face Liberty in the Conference USA title game Friday at 5 p.m. MT on CBS Sports Network.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to KTSM 9 News.