LAFAYETTE, Colo. – Life University’s roster isn’t one littered with players of mammoth proportion, or with eye-catching speed. Instead, the Running Eagles coaching staff pursues student-athletes that are hardworking and willing to put the team ahead of individual success.
This year’s undefeated Life team is littered with players doing their part to uphold the program’s esteemed tradition, but two players in particular have demonstrated the sacrifice that which Running Eagles have come to be known.
Harley Davidson and Zach Warren each arrived at the Marietta, Ga. campus thinking he was going to be a scrum half. Both players stand around 5-foot-9, making it conceivable their time spent at Life would be in a No. 9 jersey. However, Davidson and Warren have played pivotal roles during the Running Eagles‘ current 12-0 season, and neither is playing scrum half – or in the backline for that matter. The two selfless leaders have instead taken up positions amongst Life’s forwards.
“As long as I was on the field I didn’t mind,” Davidson said. “I was willing to do whatever it took to get on the field.”
Davidson’s willingness to adapt to different roles doesn’t mean the junior from Boise wasn’t surprised by his move to the forward pack. After a 2013-14 season that saw Davidson start at outside center in the D1A National Championship Final versus Saint Mary’s and conclude with a place on the Sevens All-American team, he was forced to miss the majority of last season due to a knee injury. Feeling stronger than ever coming off the injury, Davidson assumed he’d return to a more familiar role in Life’s backline.
“At the beginning of the season the coaches pulled me into the office, and I could tell coach [Scott] Lawrence was excited about it,” Davidson recalled. “I was shocked at first, but right away I immediately fell in love with playing flanker. I also have a new found respect for the forwards. I knew they did a lot of the dirty work, but after my first game at flank I was really tired.”
The opening at openside flanker didn’t come about due to a graduating senior, though. Last year’s No. 7 received news of a position change at the beginning of the season, as well. Warren, already an undersized loose forward, was told he’d be moving to hooker.
“We don’t see position changes effecting us,” Warren said. “We just see it as an opportunity to go out and perform at a new position.”
In fact, the two upperclassmen not only refused to dwell on the position swaps late into their careers, they have embraced it and given Life an added dimension of quickness and skill to its forwards.
“It gives us an opportunity to have three flankers on the field…so, that’s really an advantage for us with the speed we’re able to play at,” said Warren.
Davidson agrees that his move to the back row and Warren’s move to the front row makes Life even more dynamic.
“Especially with Zach and I, one of our advantages is our work ethic. We can bring a different energy to the forwards, and I think it’s been contagious in our forward pack.”
Life players moving into an alternate, if not less desirable, position is nothing knew. Xander Daniels started at flanker in the 2014 D1A Final. Twelve months later, the tough but lean senior started at prop in the ’15 Championship game. Three-time All-American Glen Maricelli is a natural fit at eight man, but that didn’t stop him from making an impact at hooker on the several occasions he was asked to plug a hole in the front row.
Even Men’s Eagle Cam Dolan made sacrifices while at Life. A second and third row at the professional and international test level, Dolan made starts at wing for the Running Eagles because it was best for the team on that given Saturday.
Surprise role adjustments weren’t only required for Davidson and Warren in the fall, but as recent as last week’s Semifinal versus Mid-South rival Lindenwood. Injuries and player commitments to the Junior All-Americans found Davidson at inside center and Warren, who is slightly built for the front row, came on as a second half replacement against a much larger Lindenwood side.
“I don’t care if I’m a starter of a reserve, as long as I’m helping the team,” Warren said. “There is no room for big egos here. We like to be honest with ourselves, win the game and move forward.”
Life did indeed win its Semifinal over Lindenwood, and now move on to its fourth consecutive D1A National Championship Final. The Running Eagles will once again face Saint Mary’s in the championship-deciding contest as part of the May 7 USA Rugby College 15s National Championships at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif. The D1A Final will kickoff 3 p.m. PT and air for free on The Rugby Channel.