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Crossover has almost become a slur in rugby. Amongst many, there’s a negative stigma placed on people who come to the game after a career in another sport, even though, in America, rugby is a game most enter at a very late stage, and some of the most notable Eagles of all time would today be considered crossovers, like Jack Clark, Dan Lyle and Mike Palefau.

It’s as if because a guy has caught more footballs than rugby balls, he’s incapable of learning how to handle the latter. It’s a silly concept, as most Americans spend their whole lives playing mainstream sports and pick up rugby in college, or if they’re lucky, high school. So they may be 30, 40 or 50 games, most often at a pretty low standard, ahead of a plus-level athlete who had his college education at least partially paid for by another sport.

Littered throughout the list of invitees for the 7s high performance camp organized by USA Rugby’s 7s national development director Alex Magleby are several examples of these crossovers, even though many would probably like to shake that label. Several, you should know.

Chris Frazier has been Northeastern’s best player at the Collegiate Rugby Championship the last two years. He was a linebacker for Northeastern’s DI-AA team before the university ended its football program, a la Kevin Swiryn at St. Mary’s (Swiryn played wide receiver).

Perry Baker played wide receiver at DII Fairmont State and earned a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. Before stepping on the field in Philadelphia, his NFL career was ended by injury. He played a bit in the Arena Football League before returning home to Florida and picking up rugby. He played at 7s Nationals a couple of years ago with Daytona, and he’s been in the Tiger system ever since. He’s developed immensely as a rugby player and is among the few in this camp most poised to earn a full-time training contract.

John Cullen, should he earn a contract, would have to be the first former DI offensive lineman in the history of mankind to transition into a professional of a sport that cherishes speed as much as rugby 7s. A standout tackle at Utah, Cullen had legitimate tryouts with NFL teams before returning to Utah to finish his degree and play rugby, which he was introduced to in high school. He’s slimmed down impressively from his gridiron days, and even from last summer when the lock went on tour with the 15s Eagles without earning a cap. He’s now with Seattle Saracens and played at the Elite City 7s.

Derek Lipscomb is another person who’s been written about quite a bit. A linebacker at Columbia, he’s been playing with Old Blue for a couple of years. His physical features are everything you want in a crossover, but his skills are a work in progress, though he’s come a long way. He is in the Northeast Olympic Development Academy, played in World Club 7s last year, and could be primed for a long-term spot at the OTC.

Another guy you may have heard of is Marcus Henderson. He went to Stanford to wrestle and blossomed into a rugby player under All Americans head coach Matt Sherman. He’s small, but well put together and quick. He was named a RUGBYMag DI-AA All American in 2011.

Then there’s a quartet of crossovers you’ve not likely heard of, and three of them played DII football. Richard Kirkland is playing with the New Haven Bulldogs this summer, and he was a cornerback at Southern Connecticut. Paul Eteaki, a linebacker at Midwestern State, is with Fort Worth. And Kevon Williams, a wide receiver at New Mexico Highlands, is playing for the Denver Barbarians. Williams also helped Highlands to the brink of an NSCRO 7s National Championship in June. The fourth new crossover is David Hightower, a hurdler from Rider.   

All of the invitees will be immersed in training with current contracted players for a few days. Magleby did something like this in January 2013. He brought in 18 guys, some rugby veterans (including Rocco Mauer and Pila Taufa, who are in this camp, too) and some were crossovers like Gabe Adler, who went to minicamp this spring with the New Orleans Saints.

Of that group, only two players were kept for a long period of time – Taufa and Madison Hughes. So it may be unrealistic to expect too many of these crossovers to be invited for a long-term stay at the OTC, but they’re getting their feet in the door, and they're giving the new Eagles' new coaching staff, or at least the portion of it that's been announced, a look at the talent on offer here in America.   

NameSport of originPositionSchool
Perry BakerFootballWide ReceiverFairmont State - DII
John CullenFootballOffensive TackleUtah - FBS
Paul EteakiFootballLinebackerMidwestern State - DII
Chris FrazierFootballLinebackerNortheastern - FCS
Marcus HendersonWrestlingWrestlerStanford - DI
David HightowerTrackHurdlerRider - DI
Richard KirklandFootballCornerbackSouthern Connecticut - DII
Derek LipscombFootballLinebackerColumbia - FBS
Kevon WilliamsFootballWide ReceiverNew Mexico Highlands - DII


Here's the problem with crossover athletes, especially when considering them in the context of putting together an International rugby team. I don't care how great of an athlete they are, in Internationals they will be competing against guys just as athletic, just as big, just as strong, just as fast; the exception being these other guys from England, Australia, NZ, South Africa have been playing rugby since the age of 5. Not only that, but the best have been herded onto Representative sides since about the age of 11 where they get to compete against the best of the best. By the time they hit their 20's they have over a decade of experience and have been receiving the very best rugby coaching their nations can offer, knowledge built up over generations. These players see things on the paddock that the crossover athlete will NEVER see. The essence of rugby is that it is a game of space and time and crossover athletes will FOREVER be behind the curve in this element of the game. Pitting a crossover athlete against a true rugger is like checkers and chess; they will always be a step behind and that is fatal in rugby.
I completely understand that sentiment. However, at this time, with very few exceptions, almost every American rugby player will be fighting that curve. The fact of the matter is that very few kids get exposed to rugby and don't start playing until they are in high school and beyond. So what we're talking about is a difference of 5-6 years of rugby experience. Until that changes, I think it behooves us to go after as many crossover athletes as possible. Expand the player pool to as many young men/women as we possibly can. This may not be as important on the West coast and the Midwest/Northeast where there is a solid youth/high school rugby program. However, in the south, youth rugby isn't as highly developed. But they churn out great football players. These kids have many of the skill sets rugby needs, but they have no idea the sport exists. I have to think there are plenty of diamonds in the rough amongst this player pool -- but for whatever reason, it hasn't been exploited.
Youth rugby is getting there. I'm in the mid-Atlantic region, specifically DC-area. Once rugby becomes accessible to more young children, Rugbys popularity increases. USA Rugbys State based structure seems to be working. I think we are about 8-10 years before we see the national team roster of players who started playing rugby in the youth ranks.
I believe Tyler Coffman went to CWU as a Football Wide Receiver. He picked up rugby while in Ellensburg.