Every year the Boulder Rugby Football Club recruits a group of offensive linemen from all around the area with the incentive of finally getting the ball in their hands.
One sport’s nightmare scenario appears to be another’s draw.
“These offensive linemen were new at practice last week and they were like, ‘Gah, this awesome. We get to run the ball’,” Lions rugby coach Pat Abernathey smiles.
Silver Creek’s OL Maddax Schaefer got his first taste of it last season, joining the two-decades-old rugby club at Boulder — which went on to win a state title in the spring — to play a sport he knew absolutely nothing about.
Newbies, like he was, are the lifeblood of the club.
Abernathey said they come in wanting to hit and run, and slowly they pick up the intricacies of a game not well known in most parts of America.
The focus is on fun first and foremost, the coach establishes. He promises it gets even better with more understanding.
“It’s kind of like tackle basketball,” says Abernathey, the eighth-year club coach who himself was introduced to the sport after he was an option quarterback at Austin College in Sherman, Texas years ago. “Some kids are drawn to the physicality of it. Some kids are drawn to the ball movement and like more of the basketball and soccer aspects of it.”
Schaefer, a 4A honorable mention guard in football this past fall, says he just loved the change of pace of it.
“We actually get a chance to get the ball and take it to them and not wait for them to come to you,” he beams.
Schaefer and Niwot center/linebacker Nico Kemp are among the returning veterans from the Lions’ Division-II state title run last spring.
With added responsibility on the field, they must also help their new teammates get up to speed in the basics.
“You pick it up as you go,” Schaefer tells his new teammates. “I know they’ll be fine because they’re really good athletes. I have a lot of faith in them.”
The club has a junior-senior varsity squad as well as a freshman-sophomore JV team. It brings players together from Boulder, Fairview, Niwot, Mead, Silver Creek and Longmont, among others.
Sometimes it even realigns stepbrothers. Greyson Burgin, from Boulder, and Reid Abbott, from Fairview, are now teammates.
“It’s just fun to see a bunch of different people fall in love with the sport,” says Burgin, whose background comes from basketball and not so much football like so many others.
Burgin isn’t intimidated by the bigger bodies at just 6-foot-1, 145 pounds, though. “I’m super small. I can’t lie,” he admits.
The Lions practice in January and February on Kittredge Field at the University of Colorado, then go to Tom Watson Park in north Boulder when the regular season begins in March.
Their first scrimmage is against Regis Jesuit Feb. 11. They begin league play against the North Colorado Springs Falcons March 4.
Abernathey says players from the club have gone to play at CU, Wisconsin, the Colorado School of Mines, Washington and Oregon, to name a few.
“Rugby can be a lifetime sport,” the coach says. “Even if you can’t play anymore, you have lifetime relationships. You can go anywhere in the country, after you get out of college and get a job, and find a rugby club. We’re trying to teach that love of the game.”
Brent W. New
Boulder Daily Camera
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