Just five teams play rugby as a varsity sport in Maryland because the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association is the only local high school association to sanction the sport. It is also one of just a handful of high school athletic associations around the country to sanction it.
Still, the competition among those five teams — Loyola, Archbishop Spalding, Calvert Hall, John Carroll and Mount St. Joseph — can be intense. This season four of them are out to unseat Loyola, which has won three consecutive titles. But senior Dave Rogers, one of only two returning starters for the Dons, is determined to keep the championship trophy safely in the Dons' trophy case.
How important is it to you to win a fourth title?
We really want to win the championship again. Last year, winning here against St. Joe, it was the best experience I've ever had. We got to celebrate with all those seniors. I'd been with all of them for three years. It was a great moment because we'd all worked so hard.
How likely is it that you'll get a fourth one?
The past two teams, we'd been playing together for a long time. This year we only have two returning starters, and we started slow. But we're coming together as a team. We have a good shot
There aren't a lot of rugby teams around. How did you become a rugby player?
My uncle was a big rugby player at Loyola College, and I played for the Lutherville Vipers youth league team. I started in fifth grade, and I loved it. I'd been a football player and at my positions (defensive end and right offensive tackle), I hadn't had the ball in so long. In rugby you get to score. It's an easy game to learn, and it's so much fun. Look out there at practice. The coaches aren't screaming. No one is focused on being a star. You just go out and have fun.
What position do you play?
I'm the 8 Man. If you've seen the scrum, that's the guy in the very back. I'm basically a back who runs the ball a lot. An 8 Man is a scrummer, and a scrummer is usually the big guy, but I get the ball more than the bigger guys and I really like that.
How do you get the ball?
We have designed plays, but sometimes maybe I'll just pick it up. Other times, I'll muscle my way in and wrestle for it on the ground, push people around, to get it. It's a contact sport.
Is rugby like football? And what makes you suited to it?
It's hard to compare the two sports. There are no real pauses in rugby. You don't reset after each play like in football. In rugby, I'll be all over the field. But my defensive end or tackle positions are similar to what I play at 8 Man. I have the aggressiveness from playing football all my life. So that part was easy. Coming in the offseason from football, the constant running around, tackling, all that keeps you in shape for football, like football keeps you in shape for rugby. What I like about rugby is the physical contact and the movement. You've got to be tough. It's you trying to get past the other team. But there are no helmets. No pads. You have to be unselfish because if you try to do it all on your own and try to score every time you'll just hurt your team.
Besides the contact element and being able to touch the ball, is there anything else you really like about rugby?
I like that everyone has to do it together. There are no individual stars like there is in football. There are individual players who stand out a little, but they wouldn't get the ball without the abilities of their teammates. In rugby there is more grinding it out with all your teammates. And it is such a friendly environment. After the games we have cookouts and talk with the other team.
What has been your most memorable moment?
There are a lot of those kinds of moments. The first time I scored a try — that's what you call a goal. It came last year against Calvert Hall. It was a great feeling. I'm not used to scoring. But when you score it is because of the whole team's effort.
Did you come to Loyola to play rugby?
I came to Loyola because a lot of my family members had been here. I watched the Turkey Bowl every year. I played football.
Have you continued to play football?
Yes. And I'll be playing football again next year for Division III Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa. They recruited me. I really like the coaches, and the school gave me a lot of money to play football through financial aid and scholarships. I'm considering playing rugby there, too, but it might be tough because of the study and football workload.