Written by Pat Clifton    Wednesday, 27 November 2013 17:04    PDF Print Write e-mail
Cliff Notes: It's Not Just Cal Anymore
Columns - Cliff Notes

College rugby has always put out the bulk of USA’s National Team players, but they’ve usually come from just a handful of schools. Cal has always produced Eagles, and back in the day Stanford and UCLA used to pump them out with regularity.

A new, welcomed trend is the breadth of college rugby programs putting players on the National Team. Arkansas State (Zac Mizell), Central Washington (Pat Blair), Arizona (Brett Thompson), San Diego State (Steven Tomasin) and Oregon State (Pono Haitsuka) are going to be represented in Dubai this weekend.

Between the November Tour squad and those in residency at the Olympic Training Center, I count 24 who played college rugby in the United States at 17 different programs. Five of those clubs currently have multiple National Team members or hopefuls – Cal, Life, BYU, St. Mary’s and Arizona.

This isn’t including the likes of Nu’u Punimata (UTEP), Carlin Isles (Ashland) or Miles Craigwell (Brown), who went to American colleges but didn’t play rugby while there. It doesn’t include guys like Scott LaValla, Shawn Pittman or Mike Te’o, who are American-trained players who’ve played their rugby overseas or for domestic clubs.

If you open up the list to include the last few years, it’s more impressive. Bowling Green has Mike Ziegler in Chula Vista now, but don’t forget Rocco Mauer. Arizona currently boasts Ryan Matyas and Thompson, but Peter Tiberio makes three recently produced by the late Dave Sitton. San Diego State has Steven Tomasin, but Alex Ross and Duncan Kelm are also recent Eagles. Utah has John Cullen, but had Jason Pye and Thretton Palamo not so long ago.

Graham Harriman (Minnesota-Duluth), Todd Clever (Nevada) and Zach Fenoglio (Loyola Marymount) are current Eagles who hail from somewhat obscure or lesser-regarded programs. But the injured Brian Doyle (Rhode Island), newly retired Paul Emerick (Northern Iowa) and recent Eagles like John van der Giessen (Idaho), Hayden Smith (Metro State) and Tony Purpura (Maine) played college rugby at small schools, too.

Central Washington and Life aren’t going to slow down their production of Eagles anytime soon. JP Eloff should be the first Davenport Eagle. Madison Hughes, or maybe Nate Brakeley, will put a Dartmouth grad back in a USA jersey. And he may only be a freshman, but AIC’s Christian Adams already has the body of an Eagle.

With the World Class Athlete Program, the service academies will get more players on the National Teams, too. Army All American Will Holder is on track to join the WCAP when he finishes his training. Former Air Force All American Eric Duechle is already enrolled in the WCAP, and the door's going to be open for other standouts.

There are more names out there, and some we don’t even know. The point is, college rugby is finally competitive enough, across the board, that the Eagles are reaping the benefits. Of course, that whole movement starts a step lower – in the high schools. Because there are so many more young people playing rugby in the high schools, there are more high-level opportunities in college, and all over the United States.

And kudos to the coaches. Guys like Tony and Roger Mazzarella, Gregg Jones, Justin Hickey, Curt and Matt Huckaby and Jason Granich - guys who continue to strive to win games against teams with more resources, who strive to produce as many Eagles as those varsity or "varsity model" programs. Instead of bellyaching about who has what and trying to gerrymander competitions or duck teams, they're trying to leverage what they have to beat the best, even if the best is on scholarship or didn't have to worry about airfare to the game.

All those efforts are making the Eagles better. This might come as news, or it might not. I just wanted to say I’m impressed.

That list of November Tour members and OTC residents who played American college rugby:

Asbun, Derek Cal
Augspurger, Nate Minnesota
Blair, Pat Central Washington
Clever, Todd Nevada
Cowley, Joe Life
Cullen, John Utah
Davies, Shaun BYU
Dolan, Cam Life
Duechle, Eric Air Force
Fenoglio, Zach Loyola Marymount
Fry, Eric Cal
Haitsuka, Pono Oregon State
Harriman, Graham Minnesota-Duluth
Kelly, Seamus Cal
Matyas, Ryan Arizona
Maupin, Tim St. Mary's
Mizell, Zac Arkansas State
Petri, Mike Penn State
Scully, Blaine Cal
Sumsion, Kyle BYU
Thompson, Brett Arizona
Tomasin, Stephen San Diego State
Wallace, Nick St. Mary's
Ziegler, Mike Bowling Green