Where are they now?: ’15 grads playing club rugby

D1A Rugby: Where are they now?: ’15 grads playing club rugby
Photo Credit: Norma Salinas (right)

BOULDER, Colo. – Not every college rugby player continues to play following graduation. In fact, a recent study by USA Rugby and Sport Development Concepts shows that a little over 4% of college players move on to senior club rugby annually. With well over 4% of college teams made up by seniors, it’s quite apparent that the majority of graduating seniors are putting away their boots.

Fortunately, many of D1A Rugby’s 2015 graduates have made a smooth transition to senior club sides. Not only are recent D1A grads finding their way onto club teams, but many have also made the decision to put themselves in the most competitive domestic environments possible.

Out west, former Michigan playmaker Sequoyah Burke-Combs has linked up with one of the finest outfits in Seattle Saracens. Burke-Combs, who shined in both 15s and sevens for the Wolverines, seemingly found a perfect fit in the Saracens, as the Eagle-littered squad excels in both codes.

Southern California’s top clubs should also be improved due to the recruitment of a few D1A players. Last spring’s West Conference Back of the Year, Victor Woo, has brought his distributing skills to Belmont Shore. Staying local, All-American Kalei Konrad has linked up with Old Mission Beach Athletic Club following his decorated career at San Diego State.

“During my five years at San Diego State, I became physically, mentally, and technically more prepared to compete and excel at the men’s club level,” Konrad says of his college career. “SDSU has not only given me the opportunity to compete at the next level, but also continued to fuel my passion for rugby.”

Konrad will have a familiar running partner in the back line, as fellow ’15 San Diego State graduate Frank Ramos has also claimed alliance with OMBAC.

The aforementioned California clubs and Saracens are no doubt quality environments for young athletes to continue to grow as rugby players, but those aren’t the only elite clubs adding D1A talent.

Coming off selection to the Rugby World Cup, scrum half Niku Kruger will join current and former Eagles with new club Glendale Raptors. Not only has Kruger found a team with great facilities, a terrific coaching staff, and a competitive schedule, but he’ll also be able to absorb plenty of knowledge from 32-time capped Eagle scrum half Mose Timoteo.

Also going from D1A to Glendale is David Ryberg. The former Iowa standout will fight for playing time in an already-talented Raptors back line, but his versatility to play both center positions, as well as wing, should get Ryberg plenty of minutes on the pitch.

While Seattle and Glendale are most definitely in the mix, Life University’s senior side could also be argued as the best club team in the entire country. The Running Eagles are continuously reloading with the help of graduates from the undergrad team in Marietta, Ga. This year is no different, as Jake McFadden and Blaine Mcllroy are making a difference on Life’s senior side just five months after starring for the undergrads in the D1A National Championship.

McFadden and Mcllroy have been two of Life’s most consistent backs the last few years, but no Running Eagle has been more reliable during their three consecutive trips to the National Championship Final than No. 8 Glen Maricelli. Fortunately for the rugby community, Maricelli has the makeup of a rugby lifer and is currently running with midwest power Palmer.

Other than Kruger, there was seemingly one other college-grade player who was fast tracked for the Eagles, and that was Davenport prop Angus MacLellan. Unfortunately, MacLellan suffered a knee injury in the second match of the USA Rugby Selects’ spring South America tour, which derailed his World Cup hopes. While he’s not currently registered with a club, one can expect MacLellan back on the pitch in 2016, and solidifying himself as one of the best up-and-coming front-rowers.

MacLellan was, of course, one of several seniors on last year’s Davenport team that reached the Semifinal of the D1A Playoffs and the Cup Final of the USA Rugby College 7s National Championships. Most notably among them is gun-slinging fly half JP Eloff. Immediately earning the No. 10 jumper from the Chicago Lions, Eloff helped guide his new club to a 9-0 fall campaign.

Meanwhile, fellow Davenport All-Americans Mason Baum and Gabe Sochanek remained in Grand Rapids to play for the Gazelles, and 2015 D1 runners-up Austin Blacks picked up Panther utility back Knute O’Donnell.

For some aspiring professional rugby players, the best form of development comes from international experience. Following another D1A Playoff appearance, Cal Poly’s Mickey Mitchell and Max Tacket joined 2014 Mustang graduate Andrew Early at the prestigious Randwick Rugby Club in Sydney, Australia.

“The boys have started training, and I’m really impressed by them,” complimented Randwick Director of Rugby Nick Ryan. “They’ve got some nice skills, very good people, and have fitted into the club really well.”

Also fine-tuning his craft overseas is All-American Kingsley McGowan. The lightning-quick McGowan has joined another former Saint Mary’s All-American, Tim Maupin, with Dublin University Rugby Football Club at Trinity College.

The new surroundings have already made an impact on McGowan as a rugby player.

“The competition I’ve faced over here is definitely better in terms of quality and consistency,” McGowan assessed. “Week in and week out you are getting a quality match.

“I’ve definitely improved in terms of overall game awareness. There are all these little nuances within rugby, so improvement isn’t too hard to come by. It just takes a bit of self analyzation and one can improve.”