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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.
|Name||Sport of origin||Position||School|
|Perry Baker||Football||Wide Receiver||Fairmont State - DII|
|John Cullen||Football||Offensive Tackle||Utah - FBS|
|Paul Eteaki||Football||Linebacker||Midwestern State - DII|
|Chris Frazier||Football||Linebacker||Northeastern - FCS|
|Marcus Henderson||Wrestling||Wrestler||Stanford - DI|
|David Hightower||Track||Hurdler||Rider - DI|
|Richard Kirkland||Football||Cornerback||Southern Connecticut - DII|
|Derek Lipscomb||Football||Linebacker||Columbia - FBS|
|Kevon Williams||Football||Wide Receiver||New Mexico Highlands - DII|