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It’s a question you might have asked yourself if you’ve come across some Pride Rugby or AIC highlights online, or if you saw the Super 7s exhibition at the CRC: ‘Who is the big guy with dreads?’ It’s Christian Adams, who’s been selected as an All American for the domestic tour beginning Saturday at 1pm against Cambridge in Hanover, NH.
Adams was recruited pretty heavily, at least by rugby standards, out of Perry Street Prep, formerly Hyde, High School. He considered going to Life and Kutztown and thought about walking on to play football at a number of schools, but ultimately wound up at American International College in Springfield, Mass.
A very small school that’s had a rugby program for a handful of years now, like Life, Davenport, Lindenwood and other start-ups, AIC's is a funded rugby program with scholarships, paid coaching and many of the amenities enjoyed by traditional varsity college athletic programs.
As a freshman, Adams is the school’s first USA Rugby All American.
“I wasn’t expecting it. I actually thought I was going to get cut,” said Adams, who survived the roster trimming after an initial three-day selection camp. “I knew it was my freshman year, so I figured if I didn’t make it, hopefully I’ll be back next year.”
This isn’t Adams’ first high performance camp. He’s been invited to two U20s camps, but never made the team. He played with the High School All Americans 7s team at the Las Vegas Invitational last year, but saw little time. Other than the HSAA’s 15s tour of Argentina in 2013, Adams has seen limited success in the high performance realm.
“I guess it was because my skills weren’t developed, and there were a lot of other players that were more developed than me. That’s why the playing time reflected the way it did,” he said.
“I don’t really look at it as a bad thing. I like to take away from the players and the people around me, the coaches…I try to take a lot from their games and intertwine it with mine just to grow and get better. Even though I’m not always playing, I’m always watching, always looking. I’m picking up on steps, how they shield the ball, or how they make their tackles, just little stuff like that.”
Adams was a force to be reckoned in the Pride’s midfield – he was a menace for perennial high school powers like Xavier and Gonzaga as Perry Street stood toe-to-toe with national champions – but he was accomplishing most everything with superior size and athleticism, and not necessarily because he was a better rugby player. At AIC, he’s moved to the wing.
“I kind of actually like it better than center, looking at it now. At first I thought it would be pretty boring on the wing,” admitted Adams.
“My skills weren’t really developed in high school, so being at the center kind of sucked for whoever was out on the wing, because once it got to me it probably wasn’t going out to them, but now I actually like it. In a way, it helped me develop my skills. I felt more inclined to develop my skills being at wing.”
Adams’ skills have improved a lot in the last year, and he’s been enveloped by the Northeast Olympic Development Academy as a result. His maturation hasn’t been limited to physical abilities.
Adams picked AIC, he’ll tell you, because of money. The Yellow Jackets were able to give him the best financial package, so he moved to Springfield, Mass. with Pride teammate Adrian Ray, instead of Marietta, Ga. Or Kutztown, Pa., where there were more accomplished programs. At first, Adams wasn’t sure he’d made the right decision. He and Ray even talked about transferring to Wheeling Jesuit, where their high school coach had been added to the staff.
“It was pretty childish, but as the season progressed and we saw what talent we have, we knew we were going to be able to build a program here,” said Adams, who scored 26 tries in AIC’s march to the American Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s title this spring.
“7s season is pretty much what set it in stone for us. We have some pretty big ballers in 7s, and we were just hungry for the competition. Playing Kutztown, Wheeling, Texas and Oklahoma, once we played them and we beat them, we were like, yeah, we can work on building a program here.”
Leaving AIC wouldn’t have been Adams’ first rugby regret. He got a taste for the game his freshman year of high school, playing in a couple of b-side games. Then he sat out his sophomore year.
“My friends were in my ear the whole time, and I came out and practiced for about a week, and I stopped going. I told them I wanted to focus on football, which was pretty stupid,” recalled Adams. “I missed out on a team tour to California, but my junior year I really came out and committed. I wish I had played my sophomore year.”
The Pride rugby family fostered Adams' love for the game, and playing in the high school tournament at the Collegiate Rugby Championship and getting selected to play in the regional all-star tournament in Pittsburgh affirmed it.
But the experience that cemented rugby in Adams’ future was a visit to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., during which he got to meet, train and mingle with the 7s National Team.
“Once I got there, seeing the environment that it was, the training setup, the fields, the players and how they interacted, and how they were treated as players, I was like, ‘Ooh, I can get here,’” said Adams.
“They just welcomed me a lot. (Andrew) Durutalo kept asking me about my hair. I felt comfortable. I wasn’t nervous, so I could really just focus.”
Adams already knew he wanted to be an Olympian and a 7s Eagle, because he knew the story of PJ Komongnan, the Eagle that put Hyde on the map. Komongnan, one of Adams’ football coaches at Perry Street Prep, was the feature subject of a lot of Hyde’s early media attention, and he represented the United States at the highest level of 7s.
“PJ, yeah, he’s, I don’t want to say immortalized, but almost something to that effect,” said Adams, who can recall being tickled when his name and the names of a few teammates were added to the same banner at Perry Street that bore Komongnan’s.
“When we got up there, we were just like, ‘We’re on the wall with PJ, we’re on the wall with PJ!’ He was the first breakout with Hyde Rugby or Pride Rugby, and we’re just following in his footsteps.”
Adams, still a teenager, is a long way from following Komongnan into an Eagle jersey. His skills have to continue to improve. His rugby IQ can be better. He needs more experience, and he has many trophies yet to win with AIC. But he’s on the right track.