About halfway through my last year of school I began to ask myself what I was going to do post high school. As time went on, I didn’t really know the answer. I knew I wanted an adventure and staying in Canberra, studying, and playing for my local club didn’t exactly excite me. I’d been to the USA a few times on holidays and had fallen in love with the country. I’d always found the idea of going to university in America attractive, but I didn’t quite know if there was an avenue available that would allow me to do so or if I could even attain a scholarship.
I began researching if there was any way I could leverage my ability as a rugby player into studying in the USA. Quickly I found out that they did play rugby at the university level and that some programs even offered rugby scholarships to talented student-athletes. Step one complete. With the fire now lit I had to figure out how I could make this opportunity happen.
Fast forward six months later and I was landing at St. Louis Lambert International Airport after securing a college rugby scholarship to attend Lindenwood University. Even after looking at nearly every street near the university on Google maps 100 times, I was beyond excited.
Source: The Canberra Times
Arriving that year in January 2014 where there were two other boys from Canberra as well as two others from Sydney. One being a former Australia 7’s and current Brumbies player Ben O’Donnell. Having the four other Australians there made the transition much easier. I was blown away by the facilities and amenities we had on offer to us. To me it felt like a professional set up. We had our own locker room equipped with Xbox, leather couches and snacks. We trained in the athletes only gym with a dedicated strength and conditioning coach, we watched film on Hudl, and we wore GPS units every session that tracked how hard we were working.
"I was blown away by the facilities and amenities we had on offer... it felt like a professional set up. We had our own locker room equipped with Xbox, leather couches and snacks. We trained in the athletes only gym with a dedicated strength and conditioning coach, we watched film, and we wore GPS units every session"
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in terms of the level of rugby, but I quickly found out that this was a serious competition and was not going to be a walk in the park. We competed in the Mid-South conference, which in my opinion was by far hardest conference in American college rugby. The battles were tough, and each game was a true 50-50. Often two or three of the teams in our conference would be in the national semi-finals.
I was stoked with the competition in the USA and the complete professionalism of the program, and I can say confidently that it developed me more as a player than all my years in Australia. We had access to all the tools and facilities that were on offer in professional set ups, and it showed.
As my time went on in the program and Major League Rugby started, we were attracting better and better players to our college rugby program. Guys were now coming in with genuine rep honors to their names - Melbourne Rebels U20, Western Province U18, France U18s etc. These guys saw this pathway as a genuine opportunity to take their game to a new level, earn a degree and hopefully earn a professional contract afterwards.
"The dream of playing professional rugby was something that didn’t seem attainable to me years ago but with my continued development at college I’d given myself a genuine chance."
My last year of college in 2018 I realized that I had a genuine chance to turn this college rugby scholarship into the opportunity of earning a living playing rugby. I trained and competed hard all year. With my time coming to an end at Lindenwood I was contacted by NOLA Gold Rugby, New Orleans’ Major League Rugby team, about coming down for a trial once I’d graduated. I was over the moon. The dream of playing professional rugby was something that didn’t seem attainable to me years ago but with my continued development at college I’d given myself a genuine chance. I did well enough in the trial to be signed to a 1-year deal in New Orleans. I started 14 games for the team my first year and was honored to win their rookie of the year award in 2019. After the season I extended my contract 2 more years.
I’m now going into my fifth season in the MLR and sometimes I must pinch myself to believe it. The leap of faith I took to play college rugby in the USA set me up for this and I couldn’t be more grateful.