An Unlikely Rugby Journey

Imagine if you had to stop playing the sport you’ve been training for growing up due to injuries. So going into your senior year of high school that opportunity is gone.  For most that would have been it, but for some they look for the next opportunity to test themselves. Luckily for Tanner Barns during his senior year at Buchanan High School in Clovis, California the high school started up a rugby program.

A competitive athlete, Tanner opted to give rugby a try. We can stay the story goes from there. Tanner excelled in the game playing in the backs.  His mother recorded some of his game footage and posted it to YouTube.  Luckily for him,  the YouTube footage eventually made it to the rugby coaches at Central Washington University (CWU)who then began to follow up with Tanner’s mother who connected them to his coaches. That summer Tanner was offered a partial scholarship to play rugby at powerhouse CWU.

Now for most the story can end there (you got a college scholarship)! For Tanner that was the start. In 2011 he began his collegiate rugby career. In his years at CWU, Tanner (as kid with one year of high school rugby experience) has earned some great college accolades. As a freshman he was an Honorable Mention for the 7s All Americans. He was an 1st Team All American in 7s and an Honorable Mention for All American in 15s is sophomore year. He earned Honorable Mention All American his Junior Year as well.  He was on the USA U-20 team that won IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy (which made the USA side eligible for the Junior World Championships).

Tanner at the 2013 Nationals. 

Tanner at the 2013 Nationals. 

Tanner also played Clubs 7s one summer with the Chicago Lions side which made a serious run for Club 7s National Championship. In other summers when Tanner hasn’t been in action for various select sides, camps,  he’s run with Fresno RFC in some social 7s when he’s been back home.

Tanner is one of those guys who can’t get enough rugby, whether its touch, 7s, social, camps, etc. he’s always around rugby.  Tanner hasn’t been one of those guys who just plays on Saturday. If he’s not playing then he’s out watching rugby matches. He’s always studying and learning the game. He also has a work ethic that is really be matched by a small percentage of players.  We’ve seen and spent time with him in the gym before.

During is junior year Tanner experienced an injury in 2014 Varsity Cup semi-final vs Cal. The next week he was in a boot and crutches and just missed making the All American side which was going on tour in New Zealand.  Up to that point Tanner was in the mix to possiblely make an Eagles side in some manner, and he did have a goal to be on the USA 2016 7s Olympic Team so he could call himself an Olympian.

The injury was a stress fracture on his lower leg which sidelined him for the that summer. However, the injury just wouldn’t heal! Tanner took a medical leave from CWU while he waited for his leg to heal, but it just wouldn’t heal. Tanner had a rod inserted into the bone to try and help it heal and for some bazaar reason it just wasn’t healing. For a highly competitive athlete to be sidelined and at that sidelined by an injury that he could do nothing about was hugely frustrating.

However as we said Tanner is one of those guys who loves the game and can’t get enough. During the season which he wasn’t playing at CWU he was back home in Clovis, California.  He began volunteering /consulting and assist with the Fresno State Men’s Rugby program working with their staff and developing their program.

After a full year off, Tanner’s injury finally healed and he was able to resume his rugby pursuits. Tanner returned CWU this summer and has pick back up his rugby.

We briefly chatted with Tanner to see where he is in his rugby journey.

Rugby Republic (RR): So Tanner you are back at CWU playing give us an update!

Tanner Barns (TB):  Believe it or not I’m out again with an injury. It’s not the same one, but I broke my foot in four places in the first tournament of the season (The North West Cup 7s). So I’m out for a while, I have some follow ups, but I’m still going forward. Still able to train.

RR: Do you have one or two more years’ of eligibility left?
TB: This is my senior year, but I do have counting this one, two years of eligibility. I am making this one my last of college rugby. I am working to get into med school. That’s always been my goal, to get into med school and really orthopedics. Right now I have three different biology classes going on.

I want to get back for 15s, and really make an impact and see if I can get back into USA camps; into the player pool really. One of my goals is to make it on to the USA 7s Circuit and see if I can play in that series, but I’m also seeking to get into med school. Once I get into med school my focus is to do that and then play as much rugby as I can, but at the club level wherever I’m going to med school.


RR: What’s your schedule like as a college rugby player?
TB: Um, today its work…rugby... class non-stop from 6am to 1pm. Then Labs from 3pm-6pm and the weight training at 8pm for a few hours. Tomorrow its work 6am-8am, class 8-10am, lab 12-3pm and then back to rugby. 

RR: What’s next?
TB: I’ve got some follow ups with my foot and I should be back fully in the spring for the 15s season. Hoping we have a great run.  I’ll keep working and again want to get back to the level where I can be invited to camps (such as the National Training Camps), etc.  I’d love to play in the 7s series, but I’m also really focused on getting into med school.

Tanner is a great example of a competitive athlete, who also is able to focus. He loves the game and has a commitment to it, what sets him apart is that he can have multiple goals (rugby, med school) and also commitment to those.  He can adjust his goals based on where he is in life. When injury limited his shot at Rio for 2016, he did just hang it up, he didn’t just plow forward but found how rugby can help him with finishing and getting his educational goals met. He saw RWC and Rio are out, then what’s the next goal…well why not the 7s circuit?  We are sure wherever he continues to play after his college career he’ll be looking to win and be a top performer. You want one of those guys on your side.  For now we look forward to his recovery and return to action and hopefully have another California guy get into that national pool.