Men’s rugby growing in valley
Doug Evans can’t imagine a place without rugby.
Everywhere he’s lived, he’s either played rugby, started a rugby team or coached the sport.
Now he’s in Grand Junction, and he’s got big plans for growing rugby in the valley.
“Rugby has been life-changing for me,” he said. “The camaraderie, friends, the demands of the sport, the competition ... It’s a brotherhood, and that’s what we’re striving to let people know here.”
Now in his second year as the coach of the Colorado Mesa University men’s rugby club, Evans keeps rugby at the center of his life. It’s nearly a year-round endeavor for the 57-year-old California native.
He coaches the CMU men in the fall, then coaches a high school team in the spring, then he turns his attention to the local men’s team in the summer.
This year’s CMU team is up to 34 players. The men’s team in the summer had 24 players with many of them being CMU players. It’s at the high school level where Evans has seen a huge jump.
When he first started the team, which has players from every District 51 school, they had seven players and were forced to join an Aspen team.
Last spring, they had 36 players out for the Grand Junction team, and he’s expecting as many as 50 players in 2014. If the numbers jump that much, he said they will break it into two teams. There are 15 players on the field per team.
Evans said the sport gets a bad rap as being too rough.
“Everybody has a fear of the sport because there are no pads,” he said. “They’re afraid they will get hurt. But our sport is much safer (than others).”
Evans said the lack of pads is actually one of the things that makes it safer.
Players don’t lead with their head, they don’t chop at a runner’s legs, and when tackling, a player is grabbed and taken to the ground and held there, which forces the player to release the ball, he said.
“Don’t confuse rugby with Australian rules football,” Evans said.
His goal is to recruit new players, and that means educating them about rugby.
“I tell them it’s not what you think it is. I feel like it’s the greatest sport ever,” he said.
Evans said he had a college football scholarship in northern California, but after he played rugby, he handed in his helmet.
“I tried rugby and quit the (football) team,” he said.
Rugby combines three sports, Evans said. It has the running and conditioning of soccer, the physicality of football and the jumping of basketball.
He said there are injuries, but they are less severe than football. But, he added, concussions are still part of rugby, just like football.
Evans said former football players make good rugby players, but his ideal new player is one who has no experience at any sport.
“The biggest challenge with football players is to get the football (thinking) out of them. I really like guys who have never played any sport,” he said.
The sport is also good for any size of players with roles for bigger players and smaller, faster players. The main thing about the sport, he said, is it’s physically demanding with a heavy demand on running and the contact of tackling.
Right now teams play at Dixson Field, which is one of only six regulation-sized fields in the state, Evans said. He added CMU plans to build a full-sized field on campus, which will increase the sport’s visibility.
Evans hopes to develop teams at the middle school level, which will feed the high school teams and adult club teams.