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Mike Friday’s first selections as head coach of the 7s Eagles were bound to be compelling – a new coach, a new batch of players at the Olympic Training Center, and a newly opened door to players training away from the OTC. Things were going to be shaken up a bit, but anyone outside the team’s inner circle who claims to have predicted the captaincy going to Madison Hughes is either a psychic or a liar.
Hughes has a history of being a captain – he’s held the role for several teams growing up, was the first junior in the history of Dartmouth rugby to be named captain, and he skippered both the 7s All Americans in 2013 and the 15s All Americans in 2014. But, at 21, he’s the youngest player on the team, has played in just four World Series tournaments, and incumbent captains Nick Edwards and Zack Test were also selected for Gold Coast.
“He understands the game, and he has the respect of the other 11 guys, and when he speaks, they listen. He speaks with sense, he speaks with purpose, and he speaks with logic,” said Friday of Hughes.
“I think they recognize that he’s a guy that works hard for them, is selfless in what he does, will give everything for the team and expect them to do the same – all the key attributes you need from that enabler, that leader, that can make the decisions on the park, and can, dare I say, influence situations on the park both with his team and with other parties as well.”
In Team USA’s inner circle is development director Alex Magleby, who as Dartmouth head coach, met Hughes as an 18-year-old Big Green freshman.
“His freshman year he was surrounded by an enormously strong leadership group – one of the best I’ve been around on any team – with Paul Jarvis, Nate Brakeley, Derek Fish, Bill Lehmann – a lot of very, very good leaders who, on any other team, would have all been captains, so to be surrounded by that group, who all had different leadership styles, was good for Maddy’s development so he could learn from those guys,” said Magleby, who wasn’t surprised to see Friday name Hughes captain.
“I wouldn’t have been surprised, either, if it had been Testy or Danny or anybody else. What the situation is with this team, from my perspective, is you have a lot of guys who are leaders and have that experience, whether that’s Zack or Nick, and a couple of others, but Madison is probably a bit different type of leader. Those types are all the same in a lot of ways, not negative, but Maddy is a little bit different, and perhaps a bit of a fresh perspective.”
As Friday alluded to, Hughes is good with referees, and communicating with the sir is a significant part of the captain’s job.
“The reality is, whether he’s 28 or 21, his leadership style fits on this team,” added Magleby. “If the captain’s main job is referee relationship, you’d say he’d be pretty darn good at that. He’s not about emotion. You have leaders like that, and it’s good you have leaders on this team that are like that.”
Hughes is still enrolled at Dartmouth, and he’s on track to graduate next spring. He plans to take the winter semester off, which means he can be all-in with the Eagles from about the end of November through the end of March, so he’s 100-percent available for the South Africa, Las Vegas, New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong stops on the World Series. And for every other tournament, like Gold Coast, he’s working with his professors to miss class time for the high performance camp and the tournament itself. Right now, no World Series tournament is off the table for Hughes, who is maybe the busiest senior at Dartmouth.
“There are a bunch of really, really good players on the team who have a long history of playing really well on the international stage, and for me I’ve only played in four tournaments. I don’t have that long experience, so definitely very flattered to have been asked, but excited as well,” said Hughes, who will reverse roles with Test and Edwards, his captains last season.
“I get on very well with both Nick and Zack and all the guys on the team, and I think we’re all very committed to the same goal of helping the Eagles improve as a team and win as a team. I think it’s very much a communal goal, and I’ve been named captain, but they’re still very much leaders on the team and they’re going to be doing everything they can to help the team improve.”