Fresno State established a club rugby program seven years ago and each year its program has grown, progressed and moved forward. This year Fresno State’s new head coach Pat Quan has taken over the reins with a formal three year plan for a foundation for a program, that includes alumni engagement, full coaching staff, new kits, training regiments, website (click on image to the left) and recruitment.
The Fresno State Bulldogs while looking at winning and becoming a rugby power, understand it must start with building the program and with the blossoming youth rugby programs in the Fresno area Fresno State is looking in its backyard for experienced players to help with its program. Coach Quan said "We are part of the local rugby community and the Fresno community, so we want to get those kids to come play at Fresno State and to be part of building something special".
Fresno State's rugby program is being supported by the Bulldog Rugby Inc. a foundation established by former area ruggers who are also Fresno State Alumni. The Bulldog Rugby Inc. is working on the alumi and fundraising to help build up the program Coach Quan reported.
Traditionally, many collegiate rugby programs are club sides who seek out students who may have an interest in playing rugby that are already on their campus. That’s how most start playing rugby, its looking for something competitive to do in college. Often those who are recruited have not previously played rugby and so there is a learning curve. With local rugby (youth, high school, and men’s rugby in the Fresno area), Fresno State is seeking to bring some of those local players on board formally vs searching around the Fresno State campus and recruit them once there. This is the first year that Fresno State has set out to formally recruit players and specifically local talent to join its ranks.
Three weeks ago Bulldog’s coach Pat Quan announced that Fresno State had gotten its first commitment and a blue chip player at that. That player is Omar Abul-Ghanam. Omar is a 17yr old senior at Clovis High School. Abul-Ghanam is a 6’3” 208 lb fly-half with great kicking ability.
Abul-Ghanam took up rugby his freshman year of high school and started as a lock (mainly because of his height), but his athleticism and mobility lead him into the centers, before landing at fly-half. Abul-Ghanam told us he’d grown up playing all sports (football, basketball, etc.) but suffered a broken leg that sidelined him in middle school and thus he lost interest in sports. During his freshman year at Clovis High School (in Clovis, CA) he saw rugby (which wasn’t a varsity sport) as a way to back into sports, thinking as it was new and not a athletic program sport at his school it wouldn’t be too competitive and he could get back into the swing. Like most ruggers Abul-Ghanam says “I started playing as I though it was fun and the next thing you know I fell in love with the game. Now its all I want to do is play all the time”.
Abul-Ghanam is a very down to earth and humble player who understands the values of the game and it was evident during our conversation. When we asked him what some of his goals are for this his senior season he said, “I’d love for Clovis to win the league championship. I know we’ve never won it and it would be huge for all us seniors to win it and for our program”. His other goal… "to be satisfied with my senior/last year”. He said that this was his last year of high school and really playing with all his teammates and he wants to make the most of it, to set the example to leave nothing behind. He said “I can’t come back, so I need to do it right this season and really to try and leave a legacy of commitment, winning and hard work for the future players”.
Abul-Ghanam has realistic goals for himself in terms of rugby, in addition to his high school goals and playing for Fresno State next year he said his goals are ideally to try and get on an All American side, or to make a U-20 or touring side. Abul-Ghanam’s goal to make it to a high level of rugby has been a goal of his since his sophomore year and the motive was that would be just a way to see how the hard work had paid off for himself more than seeking any prestige.
Abul-Ghanam is on track to meeting some of those personal rugby milestones. One he’s committed and slated to play for Fresno State next year (more on that), he’s received invitations to several camps and has been able to participate in them, including a camp where he said he was able to learn from Coach Salty Thompson. Abul-Ghanam has participated in camps for 7s (NorCal’s 7s Qualifier) and 15s. He said the best things he got from the camps was to see and play against the high level players, be exposed to new rugby approaches and ideas, as well as learn from so many coaches. Always the team player Abul-Ghanam said “Playing in the valley (central valley) you are cut off from other rugby, so at the camps you really get to learn and see new things and I look forward to always bringing new things back to our team to share with them”.
Abul-Ghanam’s experiences at the camps were also where he got the idea he said that he could play in college. At the camps he said he’d met and played with seniors who were going on to play at power rugby programs or who were getting scholarship opportunities, and he felt “if I’m here, then I can do it too”.
Abul-Ghanam really started getting the attention of college coaches he said at some of the camps, but really picked up when he became a NorCal All Star. However the process to becoming an All Star was a long and grueling one that athleticism alone would not complete, it also required commitment. Abul-Ghanam said the all star process started with league coaches nominating two players per club. So then players gathered for a trial, and from there four-five players were selected, and those players had to tryout with the Sacramento All Stars. Abul-Ghanam said the trial was over five to six days, when we asked for clarity (were those over several weekends) Abul-Ghanam said "No! Fve week days"! Abul-Ghanam told us the following, “The trials for Sacramento All Stars was while I was in school. It was for 5 days in a row in Sacramento. So each day I’d get out of school early, my dad would drive me up two and half hours to Sacramento so I could do the tryouts. Then we’d drive back to Fresno afterwards, so I’d get home around 11pm each night and go back to school and tryouts again the next day for a full week”. That is commitment! Once he made the Sac All Stars those players then would play in a match vs the Bay Area All Stars and from that game players from both teams were selected to make the NorCal All Stars. Abul-Ghanam played then with the NorCal All Stars in one of the national high school all star tournaments this past summer in Bakersfield. That really opened doors for him, and the calls, emails and recruiting started.
Daniel “Cowboy” Durant, one of his coaches and a player with the local DI Men’s club (Fresno RFC) said this about Abul-Ghanam “He’s always the first one at training and the last one to leave. Always looking to learn new things about the game. And as a person, he’s always thinking about the future, setting new goals for himself in and out of the gym and class room. That’s why he’s where he is”.
Abul-Ghanam was recruited by several schools including several rugby powers like Cal Poly SLO (currently 9th in the county), San Diego State (currently ranked 17th in the nation) and Arizona State. Abul-Ghanam was also recruited by two up and coming programs (Boise State and Grand Canyon University). So for Abul-Ghanam the question became “do I go and play with a power program, or do I become a part of a up and comer and make a mark?” When he was considering what he called the up and commers (Boise St and Grand Canyon), he said to himself “If I want to be a part of an up and comer and to be a part of something building into a power can I stay home and do it locally and build the program here”? Fresno State’s new coach Pat Quan had been recruiting Abul-Ghanam and Abul-Ghanam was interested in making a mark, building something and to be able to do it close to home, so that really swayed is decision to commit to Fresno State.
We asked Abul-Ghanam how much his familiarly with the Bulldogs influenced him in his decision? “It was a big factor. I’ve watched most of those guys over the past few years, I’ve played with some, I’ve run touch with a number of them in the summer and now there are a number of the local high school coaches who are also there now”. Abul-Ghanam explains its about relationships. He already has that with a number of the players and coaches at Fresno State; he also understands that a key part of rugby is relationships. Abul-Ghanam told us that shortly after committing to Fresno State his teammate the scrum half (Noah Kersten) for Clovis High also committed to Fresno State. Having those bonds was something that Abul-Ghanam values. “I know with those coaches and players I will fit in” said Abul-Ghanam.
Abul-Ghanam is the first big recruit from the Clovis Rugby program to be recruited to play rugby in college (while several of the alumni either play for Fresno State or the Fresno RFC), he’s the programs first to go specifically on for that. His coach Dave Paul said that Abul-Ghanam’s recruitment and commitment to Fresno State will do a lot for their program, for local youth in general and hopefully allow others to see that rugby can provide opportunities. “He’s just an all around good kid with a great attitude” said Paul.
Currently Fresno State’s program does not offer scholarships for players but the coaching staff understand the need for financial assistance and that it can be a big incentive in the future recruitment. Abul-Ghanam is not a scholarship player at this time for Fresno State (none are yet), however the program and coaches are working toward developing financial educational assistance for their program through fundraisers and working with alumni to try support the program in the future. Abul-Ghanam said “Coach Quan told me the sooner I commit the more time we'd have to try get financial aide and other assistance” to assist myself and other players.
Next fall Abul-Ghanam plans to play rugby for the Bulldogs and study business marketing at Fresno State. In the meantime he continues to train (going out several times a week to just practice his kicking alone).While he is working to develop his game as a fly-half, Abul-Ghanam said he’s not going to Fresno State to play fly-half he’s going there to play. Period! He told us he will play wherever the coaches think he can help the Bulldogs the most. Abul-Ghanam wants to finish out his high school career a few simple goals. To leave a legacy of hard work for the players, win a championship, graduate and see if he make an All Star side or other touring side”.
Coach Quan said Abul-Ghanam is the first local big time high school rugby player from the area to remain locally who had other options and thats huge for the Bulldogs' program, the high school programs and even the men's club. "Since Omar's decision to join us and be part of the building process, we've had several other players commit to us, and more who are now interested in being a part of the Bulldogs. Omar is becoming such a big piece of what is coming" said Coach Quan.
Congrats to Omar and all the new Bulldog recruits. Thanks to all the coaches who assisted us with this story as well (Coach Pat Quan, Coach Dave Paul, and Daniel Durant).