- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

HOUMA, La. (AP) - As a student at Vandebilt Catholic High School in Houma, playing sports was not a big part of Greg Rodrigue’s life.

Rodrigue was a member of the school’s band and tried out for the cross country team.

After graduating in 2007 and completing a tour in the U.S. Navy, Rodrigue found a sport that piqued his interest - rugby.

“I never thought I would get involved in a sport like rugby,” Rodrigue said. “I think the military helped me prepare the rigors of this sport. I never thought this would happen in a million years.”

Now living in Jonesboro, Arkansas, Rodrigue picked up the sport as a college student at Ave Marie University in Florida. He continued to improve in the sport and is now playing semi-pro rugby for the Boston Thirteens of the USA Rugby League.

Rodrigue, 25, said he started playing rugby as a means of exercise after the Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym he worked out in closed.

“Being a college kid and not having the gas to go all over the place looking for a place to work out, I decided to give rugby a shot,” he said. “Since 2009, it has been a part of me. I’ve been finding schools that had rugby and it let to playing semi-pro ball.”

Rugby has opened many doors for Rodrigue over the years.

After playing one season at Ave Marie, Rodrigue transferred to American International College in Massachusetts for one year and played the final two seasons of his college rugby career at Arkansas State University. Arkansas State has one of the top rugby club sport teams in the country.

Rodrigue said that experience led him to signing with the Thirteens in 2013.

Robin Peers, head coach of the Boston Thirteens, said he has been impressed with Rodrigue’s rugby skills.

“Being involved in the No. 1 rugby program at Arkansas State, it showed that he can play at a very high level,” Peers said. “He always wants to improve his game and is always dedicated to his rugby. He is always training away from the practice field.”

Trainer Travis Knight said Rodrigue is a hard worker and a dedicated rugby player.

“I started training Greg about a year ago, and from what I’ve seen, he already has a great work ethic. But what I am trying to do is polish what he has naturally. I’m just trying to watch while he trains and lifts weights and I try to just bring out his strong suits.”

Rodrigue said playing rugby and holding a full-time job has been challenging at times. While working with the Memphis Redbirds, a minor league baseball team in the Pacific Coast League, Rodrigue had to juggle working weekdays in the team’s ticket office and playing rugby on the weekends.

“Basically, I worked in Memphis Monday through Friday, and I either got money for gas, which was a 14-hour drive, or caught a flight to meet the Boston Thirteens for their next game,” he said. “After the game, I headed back to Memphis and was back at work Monday.”

Because of a career change, Rodrigue said he has taken a break from rugby as he completes training to earn his teaching certification in Arkansas. He is a history teacher and assistant football and baseball coach at Earle High School in Jonesboro.

But that has not stopped Rodrigue from continuing his rugby training as he is scheduled to rejoin the Thirteens in a few weeks.

Rodrigue said his regiment includes circuit training, speed training and improving his endurance.

“It’s been pretty much a part-time job,” he said. “I get up around 4 a.m. to go to the gym until about 7 a.m., and then I drive one hour and a half for teacher training. After that, I drive back home and go to the gym for another three hours.”

All of the extra training could pay big dividends for Rodrigue, as he has been invited for the U.S. national and Olympic team trials, scheduled for Sept. 5 in Chicago. Rugby sevens has been added as a sport for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“Over the years, I’ve been traveling and training just to play rugby. Now that it could lead to a spot on the Olympic team is amazing,” he said. “It will be difficult, but I am confident that I will be able to do my absolute best at the tryout.”

Knight said he likes Rodrigue’s chances.

“I think he definitely has all of the tools to achieve that,” Knight said. “From what I have seen up to this point, he should have every reason to believe that he can take this to the next level. I want him to really believe in what he is doing. I believe Greg has all of the gifts that he needs.”


Information from: The Courier, http://www.houmatoday.com



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