Rugby returns to Humboldt State this weekend, as the men’s team gets set to open the season at home against the University of the Pacific.
The game will be played at the Redwood Bowl on Saturday at 1 p.m.
And the HSU coaching staff believes this year will be a successful one for the HSU club team, as the Jacks look to build on the momentum of the past couple of years.
“We’ve grown,” assistant coach Vince Celotto said. “This is the third season for some of our players, and there’s a maturation.”
Not to mention some crucial team speed, especially along the back line.
“We’re definitely going to have the fastest back line in our league,” Celotto said. “We have blazing speed. And I think the size of our forwards will complement the speed of our back line.”
Celetto, who played for the Jacks back in the late 80s, has been back coaching with the team for the past few years, along with head coach Greg Pargee.
And he’s seen first-hand the re-emergence of the program, which reached the region championship a year ago.
Numbers on the rise
Numbers are also on the rise again, with 34 players on this year’s roster.
That includes a trio of former HSU football players, who bring plenty of experience to the rugby club.
With football no longer an option, Latufeao Kolopeaua, Tumanako Te’i and Jason Uipi all join the team this year, having all previously played rugby while living in SoCal.
The trio joins a core group of returning veterans, who themselves bring plenty of experience to the field.
Flanker Thomas Bradley returns for his fifth season with the team, along with all-league selections Dalvin Jamal-Milton (center), Cameron Whitney (center and fullback) and props Joseph Johnson and Colin Celotto, the latter of whom returns to the fold having missed last season with a torn ACL.
“We’re glad to have him back,” the elder Celotto said of his son, a Mack High graduate.
His return gives the Jacks some options along the front line.
“We have really good props,” the assistant coach said.
These days the Jacks play as part of the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO), which, according to Vince Celloto, has grown substantially over the past decade to 400 schools.
HSU plays in the Northern California College Rugby Conference.
The Jacks compete against schools like Santa Rosa JC and Sonoma State instead of traditional NCAA rivals.
“We went to NSCRO because our numbers dwindled,” the assistant coach said. “But at the same token a lot of our alumni are clamoring for us to go back to playing Chico State and more traditional rivals.”
Celotto believes a return to the NCAA fold is a possibility down the road, but for now NSCRO is a better fit for an establishing program.
The Jacks are one of the oldest collegiate rugby programs here on the West Coast and will celebrate 45 years of existence this season.
Celotto played for the Jacks back in the 1980s when they competed with a handful of top Division-I programs like powerhouse Cal, and had squads of 60 players.
“We had a lot of talent come here that were shunned by other schools,” he said. “But that’s changed. Every Tom, Dick and Harry school has a program now.”
The Jacks will play the Cal frosh/sophomore team as part of the Berkeley school’s rugby homecoming later this season.
Conference play runs through March, with the playoffs getting under way on March 30.
The Jacks will also host Cal State Monterey Bay a week from Saturday at College Creek Field, their traditional home field.
Ray Hamill writes at humboldtsports.com, where you can read lots more about sports in Humboldt County.