Rugby rookie is quick study

The Baltimore Sun

Last spring, Zach Chell, who had played football and baseball at John Carroll, was persuaded to try rugby, a sport he knew almost nothing about, but one that's gaining popularity among private schools in the metro area.

Chell ended up falling in love with the sport and is one of the team's captains this spring. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound senior is headed to Frostburg next year and will play for the school's club team. Chell was also the starting nose guard on the football team last fall. How did you get into playing rugby?

I played JV baseball my freshman and sophomore years, and then two of my buddies were captains on the varsity rugby team, and they said I could help the team because they needed someone with some power. I thought about it for a while, talked to the baseball coach for a while, and they finally convinced me. I went to a few practices last year, winter practices, and I realized it was the sport for me.

What is it about rugby that makes it the sport for you?

I like real physical sports, and I like contact sports. In rugby, I like how everyone on the field has a chance to score. It's not like football where only a few positions have a chance. Here, everyone does, and that's what makes it fun.

How difficult was it to learn the rules of rugby and how the game is played?

The captains and the coaches, when I first came out, they helped me a lot. They realized I could help the varsity, and they really helped me. By the third practice, I had it all down.

Had you ever watched rugby before going out for the team last year?

When I played baseball, our practice field was right next to their practice field, so I watched them a lot, but that was it. I had never seen it on TV or anything like that.

What are your thoughts on playing rugby at Frostburg next year?

It's a [Division III] club sport so it's not part of the NCAA, but it is part of Frostburg. I've talked to them. They practice twice a week. Fall's the big season. They have a minor thing where they play in the spring, but that's just to stay in shape.

Do you ever wish you had started to play rugby earlier?

Yes, I do. It's by far my favorite sport. I've only been playing it for a year and a half now, but it's my favorite sport.

What's in your iPod now?

My favorite song is "All-Star" by Smash Mouth. I've also been going to the Jumbo Shrimp concerts in Harford County. The lead singer is one of the other captains on the team.

Rugby is very big over in England. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to watch the sport over there?

I'd love to go see a game over there. That would be awesome. The environment is crazy, and it's a lot of fun. I guess no one has that much passion for sports over here, but I hear they do over there, especially for rugby.

What are your goals for this season at John Carroll?

The main goal is to make it back to the under-19 high school national tournament. We made it last year and went to Salt Lake City, and it was awesome. We placed 14th in the nation, and it was a great experience. It gave us a lot of experience. We're used to manhandling teams, and when we got out there, we were the smaller kids. It taught us to use all of our abilities.

What position do you play?

I play hooker. ... In the scrums, I hook the ball back to our eight man. I go up against the other hooker; we basically fight for the ball and guide it back to our eight man. He gets it to our scrum half, and he gets it out to the backs, and they pass and run. It's more like a linebacker in football, but it's a lot of fun.

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