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If you were on hand in Greenville, SC for the DII final four in December, it would have been hard to miss the 6-5, viking-blond, madly intense lock for UW-Whitewater. You could almost feel his energy just watching him warm-up, but wondered what type of music was streaming through his headphones and fueling his passion. Rammstein? Megadeath? Cher Lloyd?
Ben Landry’s an impressively built young man, a two-time All American, and a two-time Junior All American, but as he's the only DII player on the All American team prepping for a three-game tour beginning Saturday against Cambridge in Hanover, NH, it might be easy to overlook his name when perusing the roster.
He picked up rugby in the seventh grade and played throughout high school, making the U20s after his senior season and again after his first year of college at UW-Parkville. But the former all-state tight end didn’t have football out of his system yet and transferred to UW-Madison as a preferred walk-on. After a season, he left for Whitewater and made the Warhawks basketball team, but came back to rugby for his final two years of college.
Landry was no longer immersed in a full-time training environment but knew he wanted to return to high performance rugby, and he kept working on his body.
“It was different. I kept the same workout schedule that I did in Madison,” he said. “Playing football and playing basketball, you train with a team year-round. With rugby it’s a little different with class schedules and everything. I trained with a couple of guys, though, so it stayed intense.”
Landry missed UW-Whitewater’s DII National Championship run while he was pursuing other sports, but led the Warhawks to deep forays into the playoffs each of the last two years. This year he was one of few Warhawks who could match the physicality of eventual National Champion Minnesota-Duluth, and Whitewater was knocked out in the semifinals.
Coming from a DII program, Landry not only had to jump hurdles to make the All American team, he had some catching up to do in getting to know his new teammates and acclimating to a faster pace of rugby.
“At first it was a little awkward, I’d say, because they all had kind of background and history with each other,” said Landry of his first year with the All Americans – a team of guys who have mostly played with and against each other in DI, “but after a couple of days of playing on this field with each other, you just meshed with the guys.
“For me personally, I feel like I have a much better sense of the game flow of the high level this year. Last year I felt like I kind of ran myself ragged and didn’t play with enough impact. This year I feel like I know the game enough where I can come and be at breakdowns with impact, which is kind of my main goal for this tour.”
And, this year, with so much turnover in the program, Landry has to transition from new kid on the block to leader.
“It’s a wide variety and range of guys coming together, and since this is my second year I feel like I know the ropes and have something to offer some of these new guys,” said Landry.
“Everyone’s pretty humble here, eager to learn, eager to change their game, so it’s easy. It’s an easy situation, I think, for the coaches to come in and tell them what they want done, and it doesn’t take much leading for these guys. We’re all kind of hungry to learn a system and to compete.”
Saturday’s match will be streamed live by USA Rugby. The second of two games against Cambridge is June 23 at the Irish Cultural Center in suburban Boston, and the final fixture of the domestic tour is June 28 at the same venue against the Ontario Blues.