Men's club rugby will feature young players for 2019 fall season

Tommy Guerin rushed through University of Illinois - Chicago opponents in a fall 2018 match.

DeKALB — With many players coming in, the men’s rugby club will focus on teaching the game and instilling the culture of rugby in its players Head coach Nolan Day said.

Day said the team is pretty inexperienced, with only 12 returning players, but the plan is to build up experience for the younger players. 

Despite the lack of experience, Day said he is confident the team will be able to make the playoffs in the Great Midwestern Conference.

Club director Rich Egel, a long-time player of the game, said rugby is a rare sport with an interesting culture.

“Rugby culture is like no other sport that I’ve experienced or am aware of,” Egel said. “It’s one of those situations where you go through trials and battles with your teammates, and you bond because of that.”

Day has coached rugby for several years and continues to play the sport.

He described the culture as a brotherhood and echoed Egel’s view that rugby is incomparable to other sports. 

“In this sport, you are taught to honor your opponents,” Day said.

Senior Mike Gonzalez has been playing rugby since his sophomore year of high school, and said in his three years with NIU rugby, he’s noticed the amazing brotherhood among his teammates.

“The brotherhood is not some typical cliché,” Gonzalez said. “It’s definitely something that’s worth getting out of this rugby team, and I love that aspect of it more than anything.”

First-year Ronald Anderson is new to rugby with a high school background in track and field, football and wrestling.  Anderson said he realized right away how welcoming the team is.

“They like me here, and you know [I] really [didn’t] get that experience playing in other sports like wrestling or football,” Anderson said.

Day said the players should treat the club as a varsity-level sport despite it being a club. It’s important in preparation for the upcoming season, he said.

“[We want the players to] have proper nutrition and sleep habits; we do demand a lot for a club sport,” Day said. “They really have to be quite organized, so making sure their academics are in order is a big part of this job too.”

Gonzalez said he is optimistic about the upcoming season, and his focus is to have fun and get his new teammates involved as much as possible.

“It’s very promising,” Gonzalez said. “We have a lot of strong numbers, a lot of youth.”

Day said he plans for the team to make use of its speed to play a faster style of rugby, using the entire width of the 70-meter field. He said he credits this team as being one of the fastest he’s ever coached.

The Huskies will kick off their season 3 p.m. Saturday at the Outdoor Recreation Sports Complex when they face Northern Iowa.

“[Northern Iowa University] is going to be really tough, and it’s team has a lot of experienced players. We’re blessed this year with four guys that ran track in high school,” Day said.

The Northern Iowa bout will be one of three home matches for the Huskies.

The Huskies will play Sept. 21 at home against DePaul University and Oct. 26 against Loyola University – Chicago. Times are to be determined. 

The rugby team will be on the road three times this season. Their first road game is Sept. 28 against Western Illinois University before visiting University of Illinois – Chicago Oct. 12. The Huskies will close out their road campaign Oct. 19 against Illinois State University.