|Posted on September 14, 2022|
|SMC’s Chase Jones drafted by NOLA into Major League Rugby|
|By Jon Kingdon|
|Chase Jones Photo Karen Drinkwater|
With limited success, dating back to the 1930s, there have been several attempts to create professional rugby league in the United States. Typically, if a college rugby player was looking to play professionally, they were forced to look overseas where there were plenty of options to choose from. Since 2018, Major League Rugby has grown steadily to the point where there are now 13 teams, and they recently held their draft on TV.
For the past five years, Chase Jones has been a mainstay of the Saint Mary’s rugby team and one of the top students in the class, graduating with two degrees – an undergraduate degree in business administration and a master’s degree in business Administration.
“It was a real highlight for me,” Jones said. “With these degrees from Saint Mary’s, I’m ready for life. I was able to get into the graduate program and a lot of my classes crossed over, so staying in fifth grade allowed me to get both diplomas.”
Jones had a second dream come true on August 18. It was then that he learned that he was the fifth player selected in the draft by the NOLA Gold rugby team located in Metairie, Louisiana (a suburb of New Orleans). “I was watching the draft with my family and friends,” Jones said. “It was amazing to hear my name screamed. You don’t expect something like this to happen even when you were told it was coming. When it comes to realizing the opportunity to continue your dream, it just didn’t seem real.”
There are many reasons why someone starts playing a sport like rugby. In Jones’ case, it was because he was not a good basketball player and his mother didn’t want him to play football because she feared he would get hurt.
“I wanted to play professional sports since I started playing sports,” said Jones, who grew up in Davis, Calif. “Growing up, I thought about playing for the Sacramento Kings or the 49ers. I didn’t make the freshman basketball team and I needed to play a sport because sport has always structured my life,” Jones said. “I saw a poster in the hallway at school that said full contact rugby and that’s how I found out. I’m a sweetheart but I like to use my strength and be aggressive and I have was immediately addicted to this sport.”
Jones told his mum rugby was like football, and she didn’t see him play until his second season. “That’s when she saw her first rugby game,” Jones said. “By then I was already head over heels in love with the sport, so there was no way I would let her tell me I couldn’t keep doing it, and the rest is history.”
Jones played for coach Andy Malpas at Davis, which was one of the few public schools to have its own rugby team. Jones played his first two years there, then it merged with Dixon High School to become a premier club team.
At that time, choosing a college, fate and Jones’ father intervened. “I was going to go to Western Washington to play Division 3 rugby because they offered me more money and I had a really good visit to their campus,” Jones said. “My dad said they would help me if I went to western Washington, but they wouldn’t pay the full price, but if I went to Saint Mary’s, they would pay the full cost of As a high school student, I confess that I was quite ignorant of the opportunities that presented themselves at Saint Mary’s. My dad just helped me make the right decision there.
Saint Mary’s head coach Tim O’Brien did not know Jones at all at that time. “Chase just showed up while we were practicing and then came to a game the following Saturday and then he announced he was coming to Saint Mary’s,” O’Brien said. “He felt it was a great place for him, with or without rugby.”
Jones was a bit of a latecomer, measuring 5’11” in his first year and reaching 6’4″ in his senior year despite weighing only 185. “Believe it or not, I’m the smallest in my family” , said Jones. . “My dad is 6’7″, my mom is 6’0″, my older brother is 6’10” and my 16 year old sister is 6’1. I’m 230 now, so I’m the heaviest.”
How can you gain so much weight in just a few years? “Eating and working out in the weight room non-stop,” Jones said. “In my first two years at Saint Mary’s I put on 30 pounds of muscle – I’m now around 230 and hope to be 240 early in my professional career.”
This may just be scratching the surface, according to O’Brien: “With Chase, the NOLA team has chosen a kid who has a huge upside and his ability to contribute will be significant. He still has room to grow. , and it won’t peak for another five or six years.”
Coming out for the Saint Mary’s rugby team, Jones soon realized that everyone was starting from scratch with O’Brien. “Tim is not concerned with anyone’s story,” Jones said. “What matters is what you do with the white Saint Mary’s T-shirt that has your last name on it. He wants players who want to be there and not have to drag someone around. Of course he was very encouraging and once I got there, like everyone else, he gave us everything we needed and that’s when he put us to the test by proving ourselves. Tim has been incredibly influential in my life.
O’Brien came to appreciate Jones as much off the court as he did as a player. “Chase just understands the game and how it works and sometimes he can be like a coach on the court,” O’Brien said. “Also, he really understands, going to school here and paying tuition, the economy and the importance of his education. That being said, he’s now comfortable trying to play in professional rugby.”
When speaking with rugby players at all levels, the one word that consistently comes up is camaraderie. “At Saint Mary’s, it felt like we were family,” Jones said. “A lot of these boys will be in my life forever. In this environment, it’s so much easier for you to put your bodies on the line for each other. I’m really looking to build that at NOLA.”
Jones, a lockout flanker, is currently recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in California’s semifinal championship game but has still returned to Louisiana for preliminary work with the team. “It’s about learning the system and the team and creating some camaraderie so we can start racing rather than trying to figure each other out just before the season,” Jones said.
With all the distractions that have taken place in recent years, O’Brien sees it in a way that could help Jones’ professional career. “Chase hasn’t played much rugby in recent years due to the pandemic and having missed a few games with injuries so there’s not a lot of mileage on his body,” O’Brien said.
Jones already knows some of his teammates and there are a number of Gaels on the various teams in the league: “I played with Aaron Matthews and Dino Waldren at Saint Mary’s, and they’re on the NOLA team, and I know a few players in the league,” Jones said. “Rugby is a small, tight-knit community. In the end, everyone knows everyone.”
In his time at Saint Mary’s there were undefeated seasons but no national championship after those seasons due to the coronavirus and this year the team qualified for the national championship against Army, although Jones did not have not played due to injury. Yet the ultimate highlight for Jones was not the end result, but the process of getting there.
“The biggest lesson I will carry with me for the rest of my life was to accept suffering,” Jones said. “If you want to be really good at something, you’re going to have to go through the toughest struggles and you’re going to just have to put your head down and say, ‘You know what? through.’ Tim taught us to control our bodies when we were in the most pain, pushing all of us to the point where we were on the side of the hill thinking we were going to be sick, dehydrated and physically exhausted brothers, and that just shows that support in difficult times creates an unbreakable bond.”
O’Brien did not dispute this point. “There’s definitely a bit of shared pain,” O’Brien said. “Chase is one of those guys who takes care of everything. He had a few days where he needed support and wanted to understand what was going on. As long as he was clear about why we were doing things in a way, he was fine.”
It’s never easy for a coach to lose a player of Chase’s caliber until he graduates. “Chase’s graduation is a big loss for us, both as a player and as a person,” O’Brien said. “I will miss his personality and contributions on and off the pitch. You can see playing is a joy for him and he’s a great guy to be around.”
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