The team practices and plays near the intramural fields, in the shadows of Lane Stadium. But while Hokie football players are talked about on message boards and the media, have scholarships and play under bright lights, the players for Tech’s rugby team play solely for the love of their sport and their university.
Most of the players on the rugby team didn’t have any rugby experience before joining. Aerospace engineering senior Chris Underwood didn’t. But like many of his teammates, the Bel Air,
He said he joined the team as a freshman because he missed playing sports in high school. He is now the captain of the team and president of the club and serves as mentor for new groups of players who come to the club with a lot of intrigue and little experience.
“Most players come to us with soccer, football, wrestling, or some other sport’s experience,” Underwood said. “We get a few kids out each year who have played before and they usually rise in the ranks quickly. The learning curve is quick though.”
The learning curve was especially quick for engineering freshman Ryan Dill because he had played in high school in
Dill was aware of the rugby team at Tech before he came to
“I knew collegiate rugby would be severely different,” Dill said. “I have an older brother that plays for Army and I was able to watch them play at that level. Preparation to face the next level is all mental.”
The team practices four times a week, usually at night to accommodate players’ class schedules. Virginia Tech plays both a fall and spring schedule, typically against other teams in
Proud Past, Promising Future
The men’s rugby club was founded in 1968. The team became a powerhouse in the ‘90s under former coach Steve Guiffre and went to the national tournament six times from 1998 to 2003. However, recently the club has fallen on hard times. This past season, Virginia Tech went 0-5 against its union, the rugby term for conference, and was out-scored 252-53 in those games.
However, head coach Jon Conrad has embraced the team and is emphatic about returning the team to its past glory.
“Our last two seasons have been poor, but I attribute that to general growing pains,” he said. “I'm quickly coming to the end of that excuse, however, so really we've got to start perform this coming fall.”
Conrad is a globetrotter. He came to the Virginia Tech program in 2006 from UVa. He grew up in
Conrad decided to return to school in 2006, which led him to the
“I’m still young enough and dumb enough to do this for free,” Conrad said.
And the players are just as committed to Conrad. No longer is rugby simply worked into their schedules. Instead, other activities are scheduled around rugby.
“In order of priority I always have school first with rugby right after that,” mechanical engineering senior Lee Doyle said. “Work and my social life come after that.”
This is something Conrad realizes and is very proud of.
“At practices I'm often heard rambling on about sacrifice and commitment, something every coach is entitled to do,” Conrad said. “What I probably don't recognize enough is how much the kids have already sacrificed to do something that is largely unappreciated.
Making the Students Take Notice
The team has grown in numbers in the past few seasons. Underwood said when he first starting playing fielding a team of 15 was a tall order for the club. Now up to 50 players come to practice and Virginia Tech fields competitive teams in both Division I and III rugby.
However, he said it is important for the club to recruit more and better athletes to become better. This is difficult because the team no longer plays close to campus. The rugby field used to be in an area behind Lee, Pritchard and O’Shaugnessy Hall. Now, the team practices and plays across from the intramural fields and finds it difficult to attract people to games.
Underwood said the team now occasionally practices on the drillfield to be more visible to the students.
“Friends of rugby players love to come out and watch games and are intrigued by its contrast from other sports and of course its violent nature,” he said. “Sadly though, there are kids on campus who don’t know Tech has a rugby team.”
No Varsity Option
Unlike many club sports at Virginia Tech, the rugby club plays at the highest level of college rugby. This is because rugby is not an NCAA-sanctioned sport. While women’s rugby is on the NCAA watch list, the men’s side does not have an immediate future as a varsity sport.
College rugby is administered by USA Rugby, which holds a national championship each year.
Would Virginia Tech’s athletics department do what
And Conrad agrees. He said his players’ work ethic is just as strong as the varsity players in the athletic department and wishes they could get the same commitment from the university that they give.
“To be honest, all that rugby players seem to want, across the board, is the right to wear their school logo and their school colors without feeling like they're breaking some kind of rule,” he said. “In
The players for the Virginia Tech rugby club aren’t varsity athletes, but they are still student-athletes. They represent the university at the highest level of college rugby and are proud to do so.
They toil mostly unnoticed, but still strive to excel at their sport and live up to the tradition set by the teams of the ‘90s. They are proud to wear orange and maroon and proud to play a sport few at their university are familiar with and even fewer understand. They play mostly for pride, but they also play for Virginia Tech.