As an offensive lineman on the football team, Ross Nolan worked to help his team score last fall.
On Friday, Nolan scored two tries of his own to help the Lincoln-Way Penguins rugby club beat 19-7 in Mokena.
“As an offensive lineman, I don’t get to score often,” Nolan said. “So, those first two tries were a lot of fun.”
Nolan is playing rugby this spring for the first time. Having already committed to play football a Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Nolan wanted to do something during the spring to stay in shape, keep motivated and have fun. Rugby has been the perfect fit.
“It’s been a blast out there,” he said. “And this was just my fourth game playing.”
The Lincoln-Way Penguins are celebrating its 10th year this spring. Since 2001, high school athletes in the area have had an opportunity to play a sport that enjoys great popularity in the United Kingdom as well as many other countries all over the world.
The original team featured students, but today the program has evolved, and this spring features a roster of kids from the four Lincoln-Way schools, as well as , , and even a player from . When a club isn’t offered at a particular school, but a student is interested in playing, he is allowed to join the team closest to his school geographically.
Players come from different sports backgrounds with football, soccer and hockey prevalent among many on the roster. And while experience with rugby is minimal or brand new for most players, there are some that have a little rugby in their blood, which is fitting for a sport possessing the slogan, “Give blood, play rugby.”
Colin Doyle, a 5-foot-8, 145-pound, senior scrumhalf from Providence, grew up around rugby since his father played for 12 years.
“I’ve watched it my whole life and have now played it for three years,” Doyle said. “We’re lucky enough to have a good club and good coaches to teach it.”
Doyle likely will continue to play rugby or hockey when he moves on to the University of Dayton in the fall.
Brandon O’Keefe, a 6-foot, 185-pound, senior loose forward from Lincoln-Way East, fell in love with the game after hearing his father tell stories. O’Keefe’s father played in England.
“There’s not the same opportunities to play here that there are in England, but I just love playing,” he said. “I’ve played football and soccer, but rugby is my favorite.”
Experience Breeds Success
The Penguins (2-1) play five league games this year. They beat 31-5 and Brother Rice 19-7, while dropping a 13-12 decision to Mt. Carmel in between. The Penguins have a crossover with on April 22, and a league contest with St. Ignatius on May 7 remaining. The team also clinched a birth in the Midwest Championships, which are scheduled for the end of this month.
“We have a lot of good athletic kids but not a whole lot of size except for one or two kids,” Penguins coach Ryan Gabey said. “What’s benefitting us most is 13 or 14 of our starting 15 are playing in at least their second season, which is a big advantage to have that experience and skill after at least a year of playing.”
Along with the success, the kids are having a heck of a good time too.
“They don’t whine about the fitness portion, they just want to hit and have fun,” Gabey said. “It’s a lot of running for 70 minutes, but they’re a great group and are enjoying every minute of it.”
For more information, go to the team's website.