When you think about Bakersfield, California you think of the oil, agriculture and football. It has not earned a reputation as a place where Eagles are developed…at least yet. Zech Browden is on a quest to change that.
Zech Browden grew up playing football and was a part of the Bakersfield High football program which has been a consistent state power who also receives national attention. Browden was pursuing a football dream until ankle injuries in his senior year resulted in a poor season, and took most of his confidence away. After that Browden didn’t really play football seriously.
Browden now 24 years old took up rugby at the age of 20, but he recalled that he was always interested in rugby. “I tried to play in high school when Bakersfield High had a little team that played against Highland, but that ended the year I started high school”. It wasn’t until a few years later that the opportunity to play rugby presented itself for Browden. Browden says “I tired out for Kern County RFC after I met my future best friend, Justin Jackson, at the park in a flag football game. He asked me to come out and try rugby. So I took a chance…and here I am”.
Browden is currently in Australia playing rugby. Browden plays 15s for Drummoyne District Rugby Club otherwise know as the Dirty Reds in Sydney. In the summer Browden plays 15s for the Burwood Blues in an tournament called the Willie O Cup. When we chatted with Browden he had just switched teams and was going to a higher league called the Shute Shield and is now playing for Eastwood Rugby Club.
So how did he go from trying out rugby as an adult to just a few years later playing in Australia? Well, let us go back a bit. Like most Americans for Browden the speed and “impact” of the game were attractive to him. Browden is also a great athlete with great speed which played to his advantage when he tried out rugby. “All the different skills you need and that you don’t have to be a great athlete if you are smarter than your opposite” where some of the factors that really engaged Browden.
Browden recalls his first day of training saying “My coach Wicus, absolutely destroyed me when I went to tackle him so I decided I needed to get him back. Sadly that never happened. But it kept me coming back for awhile, that was spark, but the “moment” that I knew this was for me was going to my first Vegas International 7s Tournament in 2011. I remember watching the games with my friend Justin Jackson and just thinking I wanna see how great I can be at this sport”.
Browden initially started as a wing in his first year (which most clubs seem to do with inexperience athletes with some speed (read our story about that here)). Browned then moved to fullback, and from there he worked to try and get to half-back (so he could be closer to the ball and create). In his final year with Kern County Browden was moved to fill in a few games at Center. “I think Coach just wanted someone who had some decent passing to get the ball out and moving as centers just hold onto the ball” said Browden. After three years with Kern Browned headed to Sydney, Australia where he now plays primarily as a fullback/wing, but would love to really play as a flanker.
Browden is an explosive player with speed who weighs in at just under 200-lbs. He has had success in 7s as well. He has played both and loves both. Browden explains “I love 7s because it is fast pace, anything can happen, and you’ll find out what kind of man you are when you are tired. The type to give up or to push through the pain! I also love 15s because it much more of a thinking game. It not about scoring on every run, but setting up for the next couple phases. Its grinding the team away and there is a lot more contact, which I also love”.
In Browden’s first year of 7s he drew the attention of former Eagle’s 7s Captain Jason Raven who asked Browden come tryout for the Griffin’s 7s side. Browden admitted he didn’t make the cut at that time and shouldn’t have because he couldn’t kick or pass and barley knew the game. However, Browden said “I’ve always remembered Raven telling me I had potential to play at the international level and that set me on an obsessive path”. So Browden began to pull from his football experience (reading ball carriers when defending and watching their hips, looking for reads and tendencies). He also became a student of the game and learning more about running lines and working on skills.
“On my lunch breaks I’d sometime drive past a park and I’d see Zech and his friend doing drills, kicking and chasing. Everywhere I’d see him he was walking with a rugby ball in his hand” recalled Wicus Postma his coach at Kern County.
Browden’s path to Australia happened by accident. He was not seeking an opportunity to play overseas, but really just how to get better and to the next level. Zech tells us the story of how he got to Australia. He shared “At the start of my third year playing rugby, a friendly Irish giant joined the team, Liam Harnett is his name. I’ll always remember when I first met this guy. I walked up to him and said ‘so you’re Irish, I’m Scottish, so are we rivals'. He looked down at me and just laughed”. After a few games of playing together Harnett (the Irishmen) told Browden that he’d like for him to go to Australia with him to play for his club in Sydney. Harnett made some calls back home to his best friend (Collin Bagsy) and set up for Browden to play in Australia. All Browden needed was to then raise the money to travel there. “It took me a year to come up with the money” says Browden “but I’m down here now”.
In Australia Browden has been playing rugby pretty much all year without an off season which he’s embraced and feels has helped in his growth as a player. Browden has learned that the game is much faster than what he experienced in Southern California Rugby Football Union (SCRFU). This, Browden has said has forced him to make rugby decisions much quicker. The speed of the game also means hits are harder and that things happen before one can think what they want to do reported Browden. Browden said that once he “adjusted to the speed of the game” that he was able to play and really learn. Browden no longer looks to score each time he touches the ball which is what he did early in his career. Now he is able to relax with the ball in hand work the game plan, see the line and able to use the kick to set things up.
“Coming here has changed my life completely” says Browden “I mean I never really left California (not counting Vegas) until I came here. I didn’t have a passport. I felt like I was really doing nothing with my life besides training. Coming here has changed everything about me. The way I think, the way I see people, the way I dress, and even the way I talk now. I see there is a whole world out there with different cultures and I want it all. I’m pretty sure I’m a whole different person”. For Browden rugby has opened doors which in turn have allowed him to grow as a person.
For Browden the hardest part of leaving Australia will be guys he’s played with. While he may have opportunities to travel back, he will not always see the same guys. Many of the guys that Browden has played with left their home county to play there. They’ve become family in their time together and because some have no family down under they’ve become more dependent on each other shared Browden. “We look after each other, eat, drink, and party with each other. A brotherhood and bond has been forged with the sport and socials” says a proud Browden.
Browden’s coach at Kern County (Wicus Postma) had shared with us during a story we were working on about Kern that Browden may be playing in France next. Browden said that the status on that is still tentative. While he’d like the opportunity to continue to play rugby at increasing higher levels playing in France will still needs to be sorted. Browden informed us “I 'll go and meet the coach in July when I visit my friend in France, and then we’ll see”. The French opportunity came up for Browden when his best friend traveled to France and told the French coach about Browden. According to Browden nothing is finalized, however playing in France would allow him to experience a new culture and learn a new language; he also feels that it can help with his goal to be an Eagle some day.
Browden knows the natural progression and playing professionally somewhere either overseas or with PRO in the states would be important to boost his résumé for Eagles consideration. Browden is not limiting his options to 7s or 15s and would embrace opportunities for either, but he did make the distinction that the pace of the two games would dictate how he'd prepare for each differently in his, training and play.
For Browden the journey is far from over. He has sacrificed a great deal to be able to pursuit his rugby dreams. Browden works three jobs and in this free time he’s either playing rugby or training for rugby. He told us that he doesn’t spend too much time at home as he’s always trying to work on improving himself (not just for rugby but as a person). He has a urge to always do more which has him training often. That drive and commitment is why Browden has come so far in such a short time. Hopefully he will continue to get the opportunity to play professionally and some day be able to call himself an Eagle, but it doesn’t just happen, it comes only with work.
Browden summed up his journey like this “I am hungry, and I’m chasing after a big feast”.
We want to thank Zechariah Browden for this time and also Wicus Postma for putting us in contact with Browden. If you want to follow Zech Browden to see where he ends up next check out his Instagram @zech_bee.