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Rocco Mauer’s rugby career has been a series of peaks and valleys. He rocketed to relevance in the inaugural Collegiate Rugby Championship in 2010, leading the tournament in tries and helping Bowling Green win the Bowl.
He debuted for the Eagles at the 2011 Pan-Am Games in Mexico and was awarded a full-time contract with Team USA at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. under Al Caravelli. Alex Magleby took over as head coach, and Mauer was selected for six straight tournaments.
But Mauer fell out of favor, making just one more appearance for Eagles before losing his contract. He struggled with what to do after leaving Chula Vista, ultimately taking a break from rugby.
Then he decided to move to Seattle and join the Serevi network and start playing rugby again, which led to him scoring the winning try in the National Championship final against Old Blue Sunday in Tukwila, Wash.
Mauer came on as a reserve, and Seattle found itself down 26-22 with time for just one last kickoff. The restart was fielded cleanly enough, and forward John Cullen took contact on the right touch line. Then the ball was swung to Mauer on the left wing.
“As the play developed, I really did see a gap there. Been practicing it quite a bit, because a lot of the guys over chase on some of the speed guys,” said Mauer, recalling the play, “and when I saw the gap open up I knew I had a shot to get in. All I did from that point was back myself and go for the try line. That’s why they had me in there, and I did my role.”
Mauer’s scored many tries on the wing, usually by lining himself up with room to spare on the edge so he can use his exceptional speed to burn his defender on the touch line. But that wasn’t what he did against Old Blue. Instead, he powered through the gap between the last two New York defenders, leaving their arms swinging like blades on a ceiling fan, and kept right on sprinting under the posts.
“A lot of people haven’t seen that part of my game yet. They know my speed is kind of my bread and butter, but really what Serevi, Ben Gollings, all the guys up here [in Seattle] have been working on me with is every other facet of my game to make me the most well-rounded,” said Mauer.
“I’m at a good body weight where my fitness is good, as well as my speed, and I can handle it, and I’m able to break tackles. I’m also trying to get better at dominating the ruck area and my defense. They’ve worked me well in every other area. They want to make me multi-dimensional.”
Mauer, who was almost solely a speed merchant during his time with the Eagles, was never strong defensively. He could score, but not keep anyone from scoring. At Nationals, multiple times he was able to wrap up his opposite and force him into touch, or make a positive grade tackle.
“I got back into 15s for the first time in three years, and getting into that really helped my defense,” said Mauer. “Playing up in the Canadian leagues, we played a lot of big wingers, so I think that really helped prep me for 7s, and Shalom Suniula’s been taking a lot of extra time out with me to work on quite a bit of form, using my strength as my advantage against some other smaller wings.”
While bagging his first-ever National Championship, after falling a game short with the Chicago Lions in 2012, is certainly a notable accomplishment, it’s not the peak Mauer’s after. He wants back on the National Team.
“I took a little bit of time off to refresh my mind, but as soon as I told myself I was going to come back, the only reason I was coming back was to put on that USA jersey and play for my country,” said Mauer.
“That’s my dream. Every time I put that jersey on, I want to try my best for my family and everyone. Being an Eagle is everything to me.”
By relocating, Mauer’s put himself in the best possible position to achieve his goal. If being at the OTC is the best path to getting selected, being involved with Serevi’s setup in Seattle is the second best.
“It’s unbelievable. The best thing about being up here is the competition. Every time we show up to training, it’s not to say this is club training, it is an elite training,” said Mauer.
“When we hit fitness, when we do anything, everyone is trying to be the best. As soon as Serevi and Ben step on the field, it’s all business. The environment is competitive to the end. I think it’s just the environment that’s really been pushing us.”
Only time will tell if Mauer is going to get back in an Eagle jersey. With Pila Taufa, Maka Unufe, Perry Baker and Carlin Isles all embedded at the OTC, there’s no lack of speed. But USA coach Mike Friday has made it clear he’ll give those outside Chula Vista their fair shake, and Mauer’s at least earned that.