Upsides of rugby appeal to football players
By KRIS HILL
Covington Reporter Assisitant Editor
March 7, 2013 · Updated 11:22 AM
Anyone can play rugby.
Just ask Tahoma High sophomore Dillon May, who runs cross country in the fall, but plays rugby in the spring. He’s not a huge guy yet he’s fallen in love with the sport. And he points to teammate Noah Vaiese, a junior at Kentwood High who is an offensive lineman for the Conquerors football team, which many seem to think is the typical rugby player.
“There’s a lot of misunderstandings about rugby,” May said. “People need to learn about the sport and then you’d see more people play rugby.”
Kentwood’s football coach Rex Norris is the coach of the Kent Crusaders girls rugby team. He encourages his players to participate in a sport in the spring, Vaiese said, and mentions that rugby is among the options.
“The thing with football, I was always afraid to hit,” May said. “Now that I’m older and taller, that helps. With rugby it will help you react faster in football. The speed is faster, so, it would definitely help with tackling.”
Vaiese added that football players who participate in rugby in the spring will be in better shape in the fall and have better endurance on the gridiron.
“In rugby it’s pretty much continuous action, a 35 minute half with no break except for halftime,” Vaiese said.
Meanwhile, the Kentwood coach’s wife Nathalie Norris teaches French at Tahoma High, and she encouraged her students to try it out. She even offered extra credit, May said, if her pupils would go check out the winter camp at Kentlake.
May went to the camp and had a blast. Then he started going to Sunday touch games. Before long, he was hooked.
“It’s been really fun,” May said. “The biggest thing, though I like the speed of the game and the feel of the game, but I really like the camaraderie. It’s such an amazing sport. It’s a sport anyone can play. Both guys and girls can play it. It’s a worldwide sport, so there’s travel, too. It’s such a great game. It’s something different, too.”
May said that rugby keeps him in shape for cross country while running in the fall helps him stay active so that when spring rolls around, he’s ready for rugby. He can see himself running and playing rugby the rest of his life.
May tried to recruit friends at school to come out to rugby. He takes the advice of one of the Crusaders boys coaches, Jeremy Torres, who suggests the players ask friends if they like to play touch football or kill the carrier. If they have, then rugby is just like the latter, but with rules. These conversations are when May runs into the misconceptions of rugby, particularly the one where people think players have to be big, like football lineman, to be successful.
Vaiese has played rugby for three and a half years. While he may be big enough to be a high school football lineman, he knows his size may not be enough for college ball. Anyone can play rugby no matter what size. He first tried rugby when a friend invited him.
“I wasn’t doing anything in the spring,” Vaiese said. “Football wasn’t my main sport.”
And like May, he was hooked almost instantly.
“I’ve fallen in love with it since I came out here,” Vaiese said. “That’s the good thing about this sport, it brings people together from different schools. And, anyone can run the ball. It’s a different feeling than football.”
May described rugby as “a brotherhood.”
Vaiese feels the same way. While there are team bonding events, dinners, and so on, in football, because there are 60 or more players on the team it’s harder to get to know everyone.
With rugby, because there are 20 to 25 players, Vaiese said, the team can easily feel like family on and off the field.
He knows that sometimes the cost of playing can be an obstacle.
Vaiese explained it’s possible to fundraise all the fees and not have to pay out of pocket if a player is motivated.
And ultimately, the cost is worth it.
“You learn a lot of life lessons,” Vaiese said. “Through hard work you can achieve anything. Determination can take you anywhere you want to go. Plus it helps your confidence. It boosts up your confidence because you do something you didn’t think you can do.”
Eyobel Melesse, a junior at Kentwood, played football until his sophomore year.
He was encouraged by his teammates last year to try rugby out. It made sense as a way to stay in shape for football and wrestling.
Then Melesse fell in love with the sport.
“This is my thing, this is my main sport, this is what I concentrate all my efforts on,” Melesse said. “It’s just fun. And some sports are not. Rugby is like coming out, hanging out with my brothers, just playing.”
There are some similarities between rugby and wrestling, too, which Melesse said has helped him on the mat.
“A rugby tackle is a lot like wrestling,” Melesse said. “If you can do it in a rugby game when someone is running at you, it’s a lot easier to do when they’re standing still.”
Melesse likes the equality of the game, too. Unlike football, there aren’t stars, it doesn’t all rest on a quarterback, wide receiver or running back.
“Everybody gets to carry the ball,” Melesse said. “Everybody gets a chance to score. Rugby is the first time I’ve done well in a sport. I’ve tapped into my athletic ability. I trust myself as an athlete.”
Kentlake sophomore Hayden Warneke has been around the sport longer than many of the other guys on the team. He began playing seriously when he was 10. He grew up watching his older brothers play. When he was in second grade, Warneke would take the ball with him to school.
“I just thought it would be fun and I started playing as soon as I could,” Warneke said.
At the same time he got into rugby he began playing football. He’s a lineman and plays football for Kentlake.
Warneke said rugby is a great sport for football players to participate in during the spring particularly when it comes to conditioning.
“This is a great way to get in shape for football and vice versa,” Warneke said. “And if you run the ball (in football) that helps. Or if you’re on defense, it helps with your tackling.”
When Warneke has tried to recruit friends he’s explained the sport as fun, something not many people know about and, “it’s like football, but, without the pads.”
He also likes the fact there is travel involved, something high school football teams don’t do much of outside of Washington state, but the boys U19 team went to a tournament, PrezFest, in Beaverton, Ore., which they won. There are plans to travel to California for a tournament and next year international play is on the list.
Thanks to rugby, he’s developed friendships with players from other schools, and even during football season they’re friendly. Those relationships are his favorite aspect of the sport.
“Definitely the family feel of the team, I would never be friends with any of the Kentwood guys except for out here,” Warneke said.
Contact Covington Reporter Assisitant Editor Kris Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or (425) 432-1209, ext. 5054.