By SAWYER RILEY
KENNESAW, Ga. — KSU men’s rugby player Ridge Meracle explains that rugby is more than just a game, it’s a brotherhood.
KSU’s rugby club was formed in 2005 and has since been regarded as one of the Southeast’s premier clubs. The team grew quickly throughout 2006 and 2007. The following year, the team finished the season with a winning record and proceeded to win the Georgia Rugby Union Championship that fall.
The ruggers also placed first in the collegiate bracket of the Battleship Rugby Tournament in Mobile, Ala., and participated in a Sweet 16’s competition. In 2009, KSU finished the season ranked 15th in the country among Division II collegiate teams.
The club earned a spot in the South Division II playoffs in both 2009 and 2010. Just five years after its establishment, KSU rugby became a Division I program.
“There are teams that have been around for 30 years who haven’t completed that,” Meracle said.
In 2011, the team made it to the Division I playoffs. It lost to Florida State in the semifinals of its conference tournament. As the club continues to grow, Meracle said that future goals include winning in the conference and attending national playoffs.
The 2013 roster includes many skilled and talented athletes. Inside center Daniel Medina is one of those key players. Meracle describes Medina as a bruising back who loves to run people over.
Sam Stephens is the team’s captain and eight man.
“He is the anchor and the leader of the forwards,” Meracle said. “He has tremendous talent and great knowledge of the game and has been a huge help at teaching newcomers their role in the forwards.”
Spanish transient student Enrique Boente is another key player on the team. Though he has only been a part of the club for one semester so far, he has made his presence known as a staple in KSU’s backline.
Jordan Basone is also a newcomer, but Meracle explained that Basone’s tackling skills make him one of the most feared players in the conference.
KSU recently built an international-grade rugby pitch on campus comparable to some of the nicest fields in the country. During the season, the team practices twice a week for two hours at a time. Though they don’t have games or official practices over school breaks for Thanksgiving and Christmas, players must continue to train in order to avoid injury.
“The demand physically makes it so you can’t take an off day,” Meracle said. “You have to be in the gym or you will get hurt.”
Meracle’s attitude when speaking about the sport, however, makes it obvious that the team doesn’t mind spending so much time together. Meracle’s brother played for Ole Miss after he picked up the game as a Marine in Australia. Meracle fell in love and said he was hooked ever since he was invited to play in the final 10 minutes of an Ole Miss game when he was a senior in high school.
“Rugby is a brotherhood that connects people from all over. I can be anywhere in the world, and if I run into a rugby player, I know I will have food to eat and a bed to sleep in,” Meracle said. “We all play this crazy game and beat the snot out of each other for 80 minutes, but it’s a gentleman’s game and you respect the other team and are brothers off the field.”
College rugby continues to grow in popularity and is one of the fastest growing sports across college campuses. Meracle explained that KSU has had a relationship with rugby even before the club was formed.
“Most people on campus don’t know this, but President Papp is an old rugby player himself. He helped build rugby teams all over the country and has been all over the world for rugby,” Meracle said. “It is really cool knowing that the president of your university is a proud rugger.”
Though rugby remains a club program at KSU and most colleges in the country, Meracle said he hopes it will one day be recognized as a varsity sport.
“There are a few teams like Life University down the road who do get support from the university but it’s still nothing like an NCAA sport gets,” Meracle said. “I do think that once rugby is recognized by the NCAA, we will be one of the first schools to become non-club.”