The face of USA Rugby put in more than just a guest appearance at Game Plan Academy’s youth clinic earlier this month at Brigham Young-Hawaii.
Eddie O’Sullivan, head coach of the USA Eagles — the U.S. national team — got down and a little dirty on the muddy field in Laie. Just as a scrum starts the ball moving in a rugby match, O’Sullivan and other notable names in the international game wanted to show that rugby could be a vehicle to college and beyond.
"There is true potential, true rugby talent here," O’Sullivan said. "We want to keep looking because I know there’s more talent here.
"I don’t believe we’ll find any Eagles for the World Cup next year, but the point of the exercise for us is the umbrella of education. Sport is a vehicle. For the first year this has been exceptional."
It is no coincidence that Game Plan Academy’s acronym is GPA … as in grade-point average … and the event was co-sponsored by Education 1st. While there was plenty of on-field instruction for players, there also was a session for parents on the realities of college athletic scholarships and the importance academics play in recruiting.
A number of athletes at the clinic were from nearby Kahuku High and "you know football is king at Kahuku," said Ma’afu Wendt, president of Rugby Hawaii Union. "We are trying to tell them there are other avenues to get an education besides football and that there are other divisions besides Division I.
"This is the greatest opportunity that rugby has ever had in Hawaii and I’ve been involved with rugby for the last 30 years. To bring the best coaches in the game here from the U.S. and New Zealand — which is No. 1 in the world — is like bringing (Bill) Belichick from the (New England) Patriots and his staff to teach a high school football clinic."
While having O’Sullivan, New Zealand All Black Star Liam Messam, and David Smyth, coach of perennial collegiate rugby power Brigham Young, on the field was special, perhaps what caught the most attention of the young athletes was the presence of someone they could relate to and have relate to them. Former University of Hawaii and Kahuku football standout Leonard Peters was there, with his real life experience in football as well as playing for USA Rugby.
"These kids don’t know what they have here with all these coaches," said Peters, who turned 29 Sunday. "The buzz from all the New Zealand coaches was they wished they could have these kids down there, playing year-round. They could develop much faster."
For a select few, they will get the chance to do just that. Thanks to a number of organizations, including the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, seven players and a coach will be chosen in May to attend a rugby academy in New Zealand.
"And they’re going to have a really hard time deciding just seven," Peters said. "For our kids to actually see the sport played at that level will be eye-opening. They’ll come back and want to get even better. This is a really good thing that’s happening."
Reach Cindy Luis at email@example.com.