Merlin Tom is the only Native American on the Bobcats’ rugby roster. Members in the Tom’s hometown of Madras were surprised that Tom had an interest in rugby. This even included Tom’s family.
“My mom questioned it at first,” Tom said. “Nobody really knew what [rugby] was, and from what they heard, it seemed to be a pretty rough game.”
Like many players on the rugby team, Tom’s athletic career did not initially start in rugby. In high school, Tom was an offensive tackle and a defensive tackle in football. His jobs then were to “either tackle the ball carrier or protect the ball carrier,” which are in some ways similar to his rugby positions now as a forward and loose head prop. Like offensive and defensive tackles in football, forwards and loose head props main focus is defense, but there are some limitations.
“In rugby, there is no blocking, so that was quite a big transition,” Tom explained. “The rules and everything are all different.”
But even with the differences in rules, Tom was able to pick up the general basics of rugby within three weeks. Now, Tom thoroughly enjoys his new sport and is determined to maintain the legacy COCC’s rugby program has established over the past three years.
“We’ve been doing pretty decent,” Tom said. “We just gotta listen to what the coaches have to say and stick together.”
Tom was not the only person to be excited about playing rugby, Coach Woody Bennett expressed his own excitement with Tom’s presence as well.
“He was really happy about my size.” Tom recalled. “But the first day of practice, I could have done better running wise.”
As so many rugby players have noticed before him, Tom made the realization that rugby is not all about size and strength. Rugby is a sport that demands all around conditioning from its athletes.
“You have to be in really good shape to play rugby,” Tom said. “Its not like football where after every down you get 10 to 15 seconds to regain yourself. There’s no breaks really.”
But even with its physical challenges, Tom says that he has grown to love the sport. Rugby cultivates connections between players and develops a sort of “brotherhood” that is similar to football. It is this creation of brotherhood that inspires Tom to encourage others’ participation in rugby.
“If you are dedicated, it is a really good sport,” Tom explained. “Its nice to be able to trust one another.”
Emily Kalei | The Broadside