You are here
This season, the Raptors have lured in three relatively big names – Shaun Davies, James Aldridge and Brett Willis. Aldridge and Willis have moved to Glendale to participate in the Olympic Development Program, and Davies hopes to earn more looks from the 15s Eagles after graduating from BYU in December.
Davies is the most rugby-decorated of the three newbies. He was a multi-year All American and two-time National Champion at BYU, and he’s been on Eagles coach Mike Tolkin’s radar the last year.
“Shaun has some quality rugby skills right now, and I think what he gains is we have some quality people to assist him in his development,” said Bullock. “He wants to be on the US National Team. He’d like to be the number one scrumhalf eventually, and he feels like this is an opportunity for him, in our environment, to work in that direction.”
Davies also fills a position of need for Glendale. While Andre Bachelet, a former Cal All American and Eagle, has been great for the Raptors, he’s 42 years old, and Glendale has struggled to find a better option at scrumhalf since Bachelet led the Raptors to a DI National Championship in 2011.
“Shaun’s got a quality pass, he’s got a solid foot kicking the ball both in open play and for points and he’s got a scrumhalf mentality,” said Bullock. “He’s a leader.”
Aldridge, a former Notre Dame running back, has been playing rugby for a few years now. He played 7s the last two summers with Aspen, attended the Spearhead Academy with Miles Craigwell and has played some 15s in the summer mountain league in Colorado. Most recently, he played with the US Falcons in the Men’s Elite division of the Las Vegas Invitational.
“He wants to make a future in rugby, and other than during the summer, he’s not getting that opportunity up in Vail, and we provide that opportunity for him to develop his game,” said Bullock of Aldridge.
“He is an explosive raw talent. Like a lot of players that are crossover players, they need experience playing and learning the finer aspects of the game – passing, catching, positioning and so forth. He’s very keen to learn. I think he’s a quick learner and I think he has a huge upside.”
What does Aldridge, 25, need to work on the most if he’s going to break onto the National Team?
“There’s issues if you’re playing in the wing regarding positioning defensively, developing a knowledge of when, if you’re the blindside wing, to be involved in the attack, learning your lines of running, those are key things,” said Bullock, “but like all of our players, and probably across the US, pass and catch skills under pressure are really important.”
Willis might be slightly less known, but he is also a football convert who has been playing rugby a few years now. A wide receiver at Colorado State before transferring to and playing at Sacramento State, Willis played rugby at Sac State after his football career was over and has been with the Sacramento Lions in both 15s and 7s since. He also played on the Atlantis team that played in Victoria and included current 7s Eagles Carlin Isles and Jack Halalilo.
“He’s exceptionally fast,” said Bullock of Willis. “Again, kind of raw, but a really good athlete.”
Working with Willis, Aldridge and the others involved in the Glendale Olympic Development Program are Glendale 15s and 7s coach Andre Snyman, a former Springbok, and Davey Williams, the former longtime strength and conditioning coach for USA Rugby.
Davies, Aldridge and Willis all scored in Glendale’s recent win over Utah, and Davies will certainly be the Raptors’ starting scrumhalf this season. But Aldridge and Willis will have some competition to break into the back three. Max Statler, Dustin Croy, Dewon Reed and James Paterson are all still in the mix. Paterson is recovering from injury, but will be more involved as the spring rolls on, and Fa'amausili should be coming back from Columbus in the coming weeks.
So Glendale has plenty of talent in the backline, new and old. Look for the Raptors to be as competitive as anyone in this new-look men’s club landscape.