Red River Preview

D1A Rugby: Red River Preview

BOULDER, Colo. – When the Allied Rugby Conference disbanded following last year’s college rugby season, several historically competitive as well as some up and coming programs were left without a rugby conference. That all changed when the coaches of the best programs in and around the state of Texas got together to form the Red River Conference.

Other than Texas A&M, whose University’s varsity sports aligned with the Southeastern Conference in 2012, every member of the Red River represents a Big 12 school. While the focus of the Red River was to have the best college rugby teams in the southwest region playing in the same competition, the conference’s similarity to the Big 12 is an added bonus to the teams from the football-crazed southwest area.

As a whole, the Red River is a young conference. Fortunately, the conference is led by several quality coaches to build young men into excellent rugby players.

“One good thing about our conference is that we have great coaches top to bottom,” explained TCU’s head coach TeShay Flowers. “There are no weaknesses in the coaching department, so for me the challenge will be to raise my game to compete with those guys.”

Baylor University

Last season was supposed to be a building block for the Baylor rugby program. Head Coach Nick Lane had a very young roster at his disposal, but was able to keep his youthful squad in the hunt for a conference championship until the final week of the season.

This season Baylor is still extremely young, but the team has a year of tutelage from Lane under its belt. Two quality players that should show well are loose forwards Pete Hamm and Khoby Moore. Hamm was a decorated high school player who really came on strong during the second half of last season. Moore is another forward who runs well and has been tabbed to take over the duties of the captain held by Stormy Weiss. Although there aren’t a ton of pieces Lane has to replace from last year, Weiss is the biggest piece. His senior leadership was invaluable last season, but Moore should fill those boots quite nicely.

In the tight five, returning starters Campbell Voltmann, Walter Woodruff, and Damiko Harvey should make the unit much stouter than they were a year ago. In the backline, the presence of fly half Sam Woo will be important, and you can count on Woo to be putting center Brent Wajdowicz and winger Pernell Greenridge into space.

University of Oklahoma

It would be tough to argue the notion that Head Coach Jason Horowitz’s first season at Oklahoma last year was not a successful one. The Sooners won conference championships in both sevens and 15s, all the while doing it with a roster made up of mostly underclassmen.

Following vigorous recruiting efforts, Horowitz recently brought on 31 freshmen from 13 different states. So, while Oklahoma figures to be baby-faced in terms of collegiate experience, the building blocks are in place for a long run at the top for the Sooners.

Oklahoma’s leadership will come from familiar faces in captain Michael Al-Jiboori and Jayce Crowder. Al-Jiboori, who was recently named D1A Player of the Week, has blazing speed at outside center, and has improved his ball skills immensely after a beneficial summer playing sevens with the Denver Barbarians. Crowder leads the forwards, and after spending time at hooker last season he’ll be able to use his speed more effectively this year as a flanker.

As far as newcomers, fly half Thomas Chinellato comes to the states from France and has added another dimension to the team with this unique skill set. Freshman Manny Soto was a decorated scrum half in high school who has already seen time with the first XV on the wing.  Alex Markowski’s presence at scrum half has allowed Soto to push out to the wing. Along with Soto, Grant Clancy and Iromuanya Somtochukwu are freshman who will make a splash with Oklahoma’s top side.

The Sooners opened Red River play with a 57-12 hammering of Baylor. Considering Oklahoma was missing a handful of starters that afternoon, the rest of the conference will have a tough time slowing them down once they are at full strength.

Texas Christian University

The future is now for TCU. Head Coach Teshay Flowers is trying to build something in Fort Work, Texas, but the coach knows he is probably a few years away from competing for a spot at the top of the conference. Either way, the team wanted to maintain its school’s traditional rivals and that meant joining D1A and the Red River before the team has had a chance to mature.

When starting five freshmen and a dozen players with two years or less experience on the pitch, TCU should not be expected to win the conference just yet. But that is not reason enough for the Horned Frogs not to be competitive in the here and now.

“We are a young team and we are inexperienced, but we never step onto the field expecting to lose,” Flowers said.

Helping TCU to compete against bigger and older teams will be Grayson Andrews and center Sam Chevalier. Andrews is currently playing fly half out of necessity, but Flowers sees him as the team’s scrum half of the future. The unquestioned danger-man for the Horned Frogs will be Narada Jackson. The fullback and former Zimbabwe U-20 player used up his eligibility with the school’s track and field team, and has returned to the rugby pitch while he completes his degree.

University of Texas

The Longhorns spent a year away from the D1A competition, and in that time they won the Southwest Conference Championship. Now, Texas returns to D1A confident and ready to play with the best.

“The club is hungry for more,” exclaimed Texas Head Coach Chris Hopps. “Our returning players are excited about the direction we are going. They’ve really bought in and taken what we did last year and using that as the new standard. Now they are really pushing the limits as far as fitness, strength and conditioning, and their commitment on the field and in the classroom.”

Leading the push for Texas is vice captain Tommy Gilmore and captain Taylor Hayes. Gilmore is a natural lock from California, but could also see time at front row this season. His work rate and attention to detail demands the respect of his teammates. Hayes has the most experience out of anyone on the Longhorn roster. He’s a fourth-year starter and has seen time just about everywhere along the backline since he got to Austin. This season, Hayes will lead the backs wearing the 13 jersey.

Sophomore fly half Carson Youman will also be a major part of Texas’ game plan. The fly half’s skill set is still a work in progress, but Coach Hopps loves his aggressive nature on both offense and defense.

After a 27-0 shutout of TCU, the Longhorns host Baylor. If Texas can handle the Bears, then the Oct. 10 showdown with rival Oklahoma will be one to circle.

Texas A&M University

Sometimes no matter how good a coach is a new voice is needed to spark a program. That could be the case at Texas A&M. Longtime Head Coach Brett Mills left the program at the end of last season after creating a standard and culture at the school that rivaled the top teams in the country.

Enter Coach Clayton Hayes. After a successful stint assisting the Air Force Academy’s rugby team, Hayes, who used to live in College Station, takes the A&M gig as his dream job.

Hayes is still eager to see how many of his players react to game situations, but he knows he has a quality player in Braeden Hood. The flanker from Australia brings a wealth of knowledge around the game as well a ferocious style on defense.

Alex Demblon is a utility forward who is most likely to see his minutes played in the number eight jersey. Demblon along with Matt Theodore, who will move from scrum half to fly half, are two of the Aggies best returning players.

Texas A&M may have played below the standard created by Mills, but expect Hayes to have the Aggies’ backs in the National Playoff picture sooner than later.

Texas Tech University

The Red Raiders surprised many when they played their way into contention for last season’s ARC Conference Championship. Although a gut-wrenching loss to Oklahoma cost them the Championship and ultimately ended their playoff hopes, Head Coach Grant Murchison believes the team is as hungry as ever.

Not only does Tech return is ultra-dangerous back three, but scrum half Nolan Dimmit also returns to the club after some time away from campus. Dimmit’s commitment to the team should help offset the absence of star player Wesley Mitchell, who is taking the semester off from rugby activities to focus on schoolwork. Mitchell was a try-scoring machine for the Red Raiders last season, and Murchison hopes to have the fly half back for sevens in the spring.

Being a smaller team, Texas Tech has been known to execute more of a back-heavy game plan. This season, expect the Red Raiders to utilize their forwards in the middle of the field more often.

Predicted Finish:

  1. Oklahoma
  2. Texas
  3. Baylor
  4. Texas A&M
  5. Texas Tech
  6. TCU