By CODY MCGHEE
KENNESAW, Ga. — Kennesaw State University fields all of the popular sports that would be expected from a major university: baseball, basketball, football, and soccer.
One of the sports that you would not find on that list is rugby, at least not yet.
With the addition of Zach Miller as head coach, the Kennesaw State University Club Rugby team is looking to mature as a club team into a national championship contender.
Hired in August, Miller came to Kennesaw State experienced and well-decorated on the rugby pitch. While playing at Walton High School in Marietta, Ga. for the Raider Rugby Football Club, Miller won three state championships in a row (2008, 2009, 2010).
Upon graduation, Miller played for Life University, where he won national titles in 2011 and 2012. Miller also has experience playing for the Washington DC 7’s, the New Orleans Rugby Club, and Negro Y Azul, out of Texas.
When Miller first stepped foot on campus as the new coach of Kennesaw State, he was ecstatic about the opportunity to coach and grow the Owls. However, Miller will be the first to admit that it won’t be an easy task: “My first thoughts were we have a lot of work to do,” Miller said.
The Owls’ record had proven that KSU was dominate in their league, but that does not necessarily mean the Owls were reaching their full potential.
“Firstly, our players needed to know how to work together in defense,” Miller explained. “Once we got that under control, we needed to straighten our lines of running.”
Miller implemented new drills at practice to teach the players specific tools needed to improve their skills.
“Lastly, we put in a system of play that got all 15 players involved in the game,” Miller continued. “From this, the entire team bought in and we made serious strides from the beginning of the season.”
These serious strides included catching new players up on the rules of rugby and how to play certain positions.
With the addition of Zach Miller, Kennesaw Rugby heads in a new direction. (Photo by Cody McGhee)
Blake Sydnor was one of the new players who had never stepped foot onto a rugby pitch until this season.
“The scrum was about all I knew,” Sydnor admitted. “I wasn’t even sure why it was a part of the sport.”
Miller was able to teach the new guys, like Sydnor, how to properly play rugby through drills that improved a player’s overall game and situational scenarios. Along with teaching how to play the sport, Miller also taught them how to be good teammates.
“I think Zach has taught me most about trusting your teammates,” Sydnor said. “In Zach’s mind it wasn’t about being a showoff or looking to be the lone hero. It was about trusting your teammate to make the right pass, the right tackle, or even to ruck correctly.”
Miller has even held the veteran players to a higher standard. Erik Boyd has played rugby for three years, two being at Norwich University in Vermont, before joining the Kennesaw State club team.
“Zach is pretty good about demanding commitment out of his players,” Boyd said. “They improved on discipline. I saw that structure at Norwich and I saw it come out a little more at KSU and it made a difference.”
Boyd is right. The structure and discipline that Miller has brought to the Owls helped improve the team throughout the season. Having players commit to the sport and to each other will help to grow KSU Rugby. If the team continues to follow his strategy and teachings, the team will only get better.
As for the future of Kennesaw State Rugby, Miller has big plans.
“I want to see KSU become dominate in their league and be in the conversation for a national title in five years,” Miller said. Kennesaw State plays in the Southeastern Conference of the National Rugby Association.
With the team improving as individuals first and then as a team, Miller expects a big offseason to build off going into the spring season. Having all the players heal up and gaining all the members back onto the team, Miller and the Owls are looking forward to having a statement year for both the club and for Kennesaw State.
Currently, the team is following Miller’s workout schedule and preparing for practice once January hits and the season begins.