Who is Devereaux Ferris? He’s a Kiwi (not a Frenchman) who plays rugby here in the USA for PRO Rugby’s San Francisco Rush. Dev (as he's know by his teammates) is the San Francisco Rush’s scrum half who initiates their attack, often with entertaining passes (like behind the back off-loads).
We recently spoke with Dev to learn more about him and some of the unique experience he has had that other professionals may not have had yet. Dev is a prototypical scrum half, he stands at 5’10” and just under a 180-lbs, but he is fast, quick, agile and the best part scrappy. You need to have a bit of that mentality as a scrum half. Off the field Dev is a chill and humble guy who just loves to play rugby.
Dev hails from New Zealand where he grew up playing rugby. His father and five of his uncles all played rugby. His dad has gone on to become one of the top coaches here in the USA having coached the Berkeley All Blues, Life West, NorCal Pelicans Select Side and now the San Francisco Rush (but more on that later).
Dev is really no different than most Kiwi kids growing up in New Zealand in that he played rugby like everyone else in his family and everyone else around him. He aspired as almost all children in New Zealand do, to be an All Black. “Rugby is just a part of the culture in New Zealand. It’s really what you do. You just try to work to be the best from an early age so you may someday be a professional and really an All Black”. For Dev to be able to realize that dream to play rugby professionally has been huge, but he never through it would be here in the States.
Dev did not come to the States initially to play professional rugby; his journey was a bit different. After high school Dev was playing high level rugby with Mid Northern Rugby Football Club and two years after high school a few players from San Diego came to play with his club for a season. At the end of the season those boys invited Dev to come play with their club in the states. The boys were from the San Diego Old Aztecs. Dev played one more season in New Zealand before taking up the offer and move to San Diego where he played one season with the Old Aztecs.
“I remember getting off the plane and almost right away being driven to training. I was so tired. And then like a day later I was playing in my first game with San Diego vs LA Rugby” recalls Dev. After playing a season in SCRFU he returned playing in New Zealand. That is when his father (Adriaan Ferris) ask him if he wanted to move back to California, this time the San Francisco Bay Area? Dev jumped at the chance. “My father had gotten the opportunity to take over a newly formed program at Life West Chiropractic College. They had done very well the year before in the club playoffs, so it was a good situation for us. For me this was also a chance for me to be coached by my dad”.
Dev and his Life West team went on that season to win the DII National Championship. That same season he also tried out and was selected to play with newly resurrected NorCal Select Sides/All Stars the Pelicans. These were the first times that he actually played for his father. Dev acknowledge that his dad has coached him at Life West, at Pelicans and now with the San Francisco Rush, but he said that had not really changed their relationship. “My dad is my dad, but he’d never been my coach, so it was easy to see him as a coach, as it wsas not something I was use to. Especially now when its rugby, we are all professionals and I see him as the coach. It’s the same with PK (head coach Paul Keeler). While we all have a great relationship with the coaches, they are the coaches and it’s a professional relationship and atmosphere”.
We asked Dev to use his experience to assess American rugby. He clearly feels there are a lot of differences and some of that has to do with regions. “I think out west it’s a bit more open, but some of that I think is influenced by the Polynesian background of the some of the players. My first game ever in the USA was vs LA Rugby and I remember thinking to myself how big some of their guys were. So I’d say rugby in the US may not be as open as southern hemisphere or as possession focused as European it is definitely more physical” explains Dev.
We’ve seen that in the southern hemisphere (where domestic competitions, Super Rugby, or the Rugby Championships) the play is fluid, open and we are starting to see some of that in PRO Rugby. Dev believes that is really more intentional than accidental. He identified the coaches and the game plans they’ve implemented which allows for running in space and playing open style, but there is the physicality of it mixed in there.
“I’ve played in NorCal the past few season, and even one season in SCRFU and you see that the teams are more physical. They hit harder and often have some big boys. Look at Langilangi from the Sac Express. He’s a big boy and plays physical. At the start of the year we were all playing club rugby in NorCal and some of that physical play has carried over to the PROs” Dev notes. He also points out how the likes of Ohio have used players with great size and getting them into space as a way to support his point.
It is Dev’s feeling that what is important is coaching and hard work and that you can see the well coached teams in PRO Rugby being able to at times out play a talented side. Dev is a strong proponent for good coaching and attributes his success to the long line of great coaches he’s had since he was a child. “I’ve gotten to this point because of the coaches over the years who took the time and used the resources they had to develop guys like me. That was one of the big things about playing in New Zealand”.
When the talk of PRO Rugby was happening in the pre-season Dev was excited about an chance to play professionally, but was uncertain of it coming to fruition and thus just focused on what was going to be the up coming NorCal season for Life West. Going into the season and having been a part of the Pelican’s camps and teams he knew that there was a lot of work to be done in the coming NorCal competition and looking ahead was not going to help him. “Playing at the various levels in NorCal was a great preparation tool for myself and I think a lot of the PRO guys" said Dev. “I mean look at the number of NorCal players on the San Francisco and Sacramento rosters, that's because there is great competition and it gets us ready for next level rugby”. Dev feels the high competition at each level, DII to DI and now to PRO have helped a number of players adapt easier. The two things Dev pointed out to us and to the readers was that the pace of the game is so much faster at PRO Rugby than in DI and that even DI was for the most part a much faster pace than DII. “You’d want each level to be a step up, or else why have levels” says Dev. The other takeaway for Dev is the fitness level. He emphasized that to play scrum half in general one needs to be very fit but at this level, to play to the Rush’s game plan and to counter the open attacking style of the other teams in PRO Rugby everyone has to be fit or you won’t last. “Teams in this league want to run, they have great skill levels and if you can't keep up you won’t last. People’s rugby IQ is just higher at this level and you have to be ready and able to play this game at a fast pace” says Dev.
We asked Dev if he felt that having so many players from his team (Life West) or Pelicans that he played with helped the Rush (the familiarity)? “Well we all had played with or against each other so there is the fact you just know people, but we had a number of players who have come in at different times of the year, so it not as much a factor”. Dev believes that the coaches did select players for a style that they wanted to play so it wasn’t just selecting local top level players. “PK got a team that is good for the style that we play. Our style is similar to what we played at Life West and it allows us to use space, to run with the ball so its very entertaining, but also effective”. The limits Dev feels are the fact that the they’ve had players coming in at different times during the season which does make it hard to have everyone learn the game plan.
San Francisco has a great roster on paper (from players to coaches) and in the preseason most would have guessed they’d have a better standing than they’ve end up with thus far. However, if you look at most of their games they have been able to put up points and play competitively nearly the entire season. These are the factors that Dev also used to support his club, that there have been some variable (players who can only play part-time, injuries, players not able to join the team later in the season, coming together).
In their game the previous week Dev noted that the Rush posted 7 tires but the issue is the defense. That is the area that he said the team will need to work and focus on. “We need to clean up off the line and close the space because these team will hurt us each time we give them space” Dev shared.
He assesses the issue as the team's need to be able to “turn it on” when they need to. At times the team has been able to play, but other times they just don’t turn it on, or "tun it on" in time.
For Dev a way to improve defense is improving fitness. He stated “Talent is not enough, especially the higher the level, it is fitness. Playing in New Zealand I knew I had to work harder than the others if I wanted to advance. I’ve seen back home that it is not always the most talented guys who make it, but sometimes it is the guys who work the hardest! Fitness is something that takes effort. That’s something people who want to play PRO need to know. Fitness is such a big part of it all”.
We started to warp up our conversation with Dev by getting some of his takes on the season. The best part of playing in PRO Rugby for Dev has been the ability to play rugby and train full-time…he then said after a pause “After this I am not sure I can ever go to an office job”. The entire experience has been a pleasant one for Dev and he’s been happy with his ability to keep stepping up in the game. The biggest experience for Dev, a Kiwi and a life long All Blacks fan has been getting to play at the same time with Mils Muliaina. “You don’t get to always run on to the field with an international player with over 100 caps for the All Blacks” We asked Dev if he known about Mils coming to his team when he was contracted with PRO since he had an possible insider contact with his father and the coaches, but Dev says “Naw man, PK kept that info pretty close to his chest until it was all official, I didn’t know until it was announced”.
Dev has a two weeks left in the season (at the time of this interview) and he didn’t want to get ahead of that, but when we pushed him about what is next he broke it down as this. “I’m looking to take some time off, but I can get back into the gym at the end of August and work on the pre-season. I just want to keep my head down and work hard. I don’t know if the off-season/pre-season will be done with the Rush, or if we’ll go back to our clubs until the start of the season, those are things that we haven’t really addressed yet with PRO Rugby, but for now I have to finish this season and then just let our bodies rest for a bit”.
We are grateful to Dev for his time and just openness in our conversation. Dev is a humble player who also demonstrated a high rugby IQ, when his playing days are done he may not have to settle for an office job, but may be in demand as a coach (and way to follow in family footsteps). His team came very close to defeating Denver this weekend and Dev was a big part of that effort. Best of luck the rest of the way.