BYU rugby starts season off strong, plans to continue momentum

When a program has as many national titles as the BYU’s men’s rugby team does, it can’t afford to lose any momentum. This season, men’s rugby plans to return to its spot as the top team in the country.

The rugby team is one of the winningest programs at the school and has brought five national championships to BYU. The team had a strong opening to its fall season, bringing home a 113-0 win against the University of Wyoming on Oct. 6, following it with back-to-back wins against Utah State on Oct. 13 and Oct. 25.

As the season continues, the coaches plan to put an emphasis on their players being well-rounded as people and translating that to the rugby pitch.

“The expectation has always been a national championship,” said backline coach Seki Kofe. “That means taking care of your body, being accountable for your teammates (and) taking care of the classroom. By doing these things, you put yourself in the best position to realize your goal.”

With an ever-growing fan base and a big reputation to uphold, players and coaches alike want to give their fans the final outcome they have been waiting for since 2015: another national title.

“The community is anxious to see how we perform this year,” said Zach Webber, a team captain and former high school All-American. “We have a totally new coaching staff and several new players joining the ranks.”

Tryouts this year saw an influx of participants and new players were added to the roster, according to Kofe.

“We have a lot of new guys on the team. Whether it’s their first time on this team or (their) first time ever touching a rugby ball, it’s been great to see the returning players reach out to the new guys and make them feel welcome,” Kofe said.

Forwards coach Ishmael Tilialo said he sees the motivation behind the seniors to lead their young team to victory.

“We have a whole bunch of senior leaders who are hungry to make their mark in the jersey and guide the new generation,” Tilialo said.

Speculation surrounded the new coaching staff when former head coach David Smyth left the program summer of 2018 after coaching the team to all its national championship wins since 2005. According to the players, however, they won’t let this shift in coaching halt their progress toward a national title.

“This team is good. (We have) a new coaching staff and a lot of incoming freshmen, including several former high school All-Americans, that are adding to the experience of the team,” said Tosh Wilcox, one of the team captains starting his third year on the team.

Kofe didn’t take any time picking out who the team’s most awaited opponent was this season.

“All of them,” Kofe said. “Every team we will play in the fall and in the spring will make us adjust game plans and strategy on a weekly basis.”

Other coaches and players said facing Saint Mary’s, which is currently ranked No. 4 in the Division 1-A College Rugby league, was the matchup they were most looking forward to.

“We always look forward to the facing quality competition,” Webber said. “Saint Mary’s is a consistently solid squad and we always enjoy traveling to them and hosting them at home.”

Assistant forwards coach Derek Smith agreed.

“The home and away series versus St. Mary’s are something I wish we had back when I was playing,” Smith said. “They are one of the premier teams in the nation so we will be tested well against them. In the playoffs, I’m really hoping for a date with Cal (Berkeley).”

Although the team has been knocked down from the No. 1 ranking in 2015 to a current ranking of No. 7, members of the coaching staff said they believe this season will be a reformative one for the team and program as a whole and hope to take the new coaching staff to the Division 1-A Rugby finals.

“We have the athletes to compete with anyone in the nation. It is just a matter of helping the boys realize their potential so we’re peaking in April and May during the playoffs,” Smith said.

As the season continues, coaches and players said they encourage students to come and support the team at home games and build the culture of rugby at BYU.

“I’ve heard somewhere that attending a BYU rugby game scientifically increases your chances of getting a date and passing your finals,” Tilialo said. “No — but seriously — rugby is a simple game. You may not understand everything your first time, but I guarantee you’ll have a good time … and we’ll do our best to get those W’s.”

For more information on the schedule, ticket prices and news related to the BYU men’s rugby team, visit the team’s website.

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