In Glendale, the American Raptors are in the middle of an experiment that could revolutionize the country’s strategy for developing rugby talent.
Infinity Park has been home to amateur or professional rugby of some sort since 2007, but over the past two years the club that plays in “RugbyTown, USA” has revamped itself. The Raptors, formerly known as the Glendale Raptors, are now in the business of turning football players into rugby players while building a roster composed entirely of crossover athletes.
The Raptors’ roster consists of largely ex-college football players who have recently graduated, and whose opportunities didn’t plan out in the NFL, XFL or CFL. In those players, the Raptors get near-premium football talent to convert onto the pitch, where the team is attempting to become a pipeline for the U.S. National Team.
“On the world stage, the United States is a second-tier country in rugby,” explained Mark Bullock, who co-founded the Raptors and now serves as the club’s director. “We have the premise that we have great athletes here in America, and we’d like the sport to perform on a higher level — but we don’t see our elite athletes on the rugby pitch on a national level, and understandably, because the country’s very best athletes are making a significant amount of money in the NFL (and other major pro leagues).
“So our thinking is, can we skim the next level of talent? We go to all kinds of the smaller combines, and pro days, and then we flat-out scour every collegiate football program in the U.S. looking for athletes that fit our parameters for size and athleticism.”
While crossover athletes on the U.S. National Team is nothing new, what is new is a club with a singular focus on crossover recruitment and development for the sport.
That approach has changed the brand of the Raptors, whose second season as a crossover team concluded Saturday afternoon at Infinity Park against Peñarol, a club from Uruguay. The Raptors competed in Major League Rugby for several years prior to that, but Bullock and the City of Glendale (which owns the team) decided to pull out of that league in 2020.
“Part of the emphasis of this club and one of the original goals at its founding was to develop and prepare players who would qualify for the U.S. National Team,” Bullock said. “Then the league went in a different direction, which included basically bringing in a high number of foreign players, in our view to the detriment of American players… We wanted to go in a different direction that fits the goals of the City of Glendale, and promoting foreign players was not one of our goals.”
Kathryn Scott, Special to The Denver PostDavid Still (11) moves up field for the American Raptors rugby team playing Pearol from Uruguay at Infinity Park on June 18, 2022 in Glendale.
When Bullock and Raptors general manager Peter Pasque initially started recruiting for the team in 2020, just after the pandemic hit, they started by messaging potential players on social media. …read more
Source:: The Denver Post – Sports