So we want to preface this story by recognizing the parents in the game. So often with youth players we speak of their talents, the coaches, the programs and all the work that goes into producing the next generation of ruggers, but overlooked are the parents and their contributions. This story was made possible by the assistance of Sonya James, Ryan James’ mother and one of his biggest supporters.
So this is a story about an outstanding youth rugger from California who has been selected by the Glendale Raptors (now a part of Major League Rugby (MLR)) to be part of their U-20 program. We want to introduce you to Ryan James. We aren’t doing a story about Glendale or their programs, but we do need to give you some background so you understand why this story and learning the name Ryan James is important for fans and other younger players. Glendale is one of those clubs in the USA which can be compared to some of the professional clubs and systems overseas. This U-20 program will really strengthen one of the top clubs in the nation (now MLR member) with what will be an academy type program that will be huge if the MLR and professional rugby can take a hold.
Dallen Stanford (former Eagle) of TheRugbyCorner and the voice of the Rugby Channel said “Glendale Rugby are leading the way with player development following the announcement of the U-20 program. It is an exciting time for these talented players, and I expect to several graduate to the MLR in 2018/19”.
Ryan James is one of four players from California chosen, the others are Mika Kruse (of Bullard High in Fresno), Amitai Means-Nieto and Ziggy Tua of Belmont Shore (Long Beach).
Ryan James was a standout athlete in football where his team (Cathedral Catholic) went 15-0 to win the CIF Championship this past season. He played rugby with Aztec Warriors (which is under the Young Aztecs and the youth affiliate of the San Diego Old Aztecs). Ryan started playing contact football at the age of 7 and didn’t get exposure to playing rugby until he was 12 (but has been playing both since then). He’s been a part of Aztec Warriors rugby playing in their U-12 program and U-18s program.
Now we said Ryan wasn’t exposed to rugby until the age of 12, but that has to do with playing rugby. He comes from a family that has long rugby roots.
Ryan is of Samoan and African American decent. His mother Sonya, is full Samoan but was born and raised in New Zealand. Sonya said “Ryan is dual citizen and could say in a sense he had rugby in his blood with roots that take him back to the best rugby country in the world "New Zealand" and the All Blacks!" His mother shared that she does have a dream that maybe one day Ryan may play professionally in New Zealand.
Sonya told us that Ryan's great grandfather played rugby in Samoa; and Ryan's (4) uncles in New Zealand grew up playing rugby and played as far as High School Rugby. So when we say he wasn’t “exposed” to rugby we do have to put that into context.
While Ryan has been a stand out in both football and rugby, his true love is rugby and he attributes much of his football success to what he developed through rugby.
Ryan James along with Patrick Madden of the Young Aztecs were the only 2-High School Freshman that participated in SoCal EIRA when it was being established back in 2013. Now if you don’t know there is a lot of great youth rugby and talent in southern California so to stand out in that crowd requires some serious skill.
Sonya told us that from his freshman year to his senior year of high school Ryan worked hard and earned a spot as a High School All American selection three times under legendary Coach Salty Thompson and in this past year (his Senior year) was invited to participate in his first Junior Men's All American Camp at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Chula Vista, CA.
Ryan’s family credits his development to a great club rugby foundation (U12s-U18s) that he was provided as well as his Coach Patrick Schustere. That tutelage lead to opportunities for Ryan to train with the SoCal EIRA under Coach Jeff Bonnet and Coach Cameron Frater playing in high level and competitive rugby tournaments throughout the United States (Portland, OR in 2014; Bakersfield, CA in 2015 (which we covered); Denver, CO 2016 and 2017; Las Vegas 7s Tournament 2016 and 2017) as well as abroad in Europe 2015, and 2017; and Canada 2016 and 2017 with Coach Salty Thompson and his coaching staff.
During Ryan's senior year of high school he was invited not once but twice to participate in the USA Men's 7s High Performance Rugby Camps. “This was big for him as he got to train with the likes of Brett Thompson, Perry Baker, Carlin Isles, and Maka Unufe to name a few” shared Sonya.
Two weeks ago Ryan was in Salt Lake City playing in the Utah 7s tournament and from there was going to head over to Glendale to join the team. Ryan and the rest of the U-20s moved into the club’s athletes residents which are apartments right across the street from Infinity Park (home of the Glendale Raptors and venue for many club championships and USA Eagles home games). Ryan is one of the youngest players in the Glendale U-20s Elite Development Program at 17. He turns 18 next month (September 19th) but has demonstrated the skills and maturity to be offered to play at the next level. He will start his play with the U-20s as a wing, but at only 17 he is still growing and developing so the future is wide open for Ryan.
Ryan will take a break from school while he transitions into a full time training schedule that is required of the Glendale’s Elite Development Program. Ryan and his family will eventually look at some on-line options and/or possible course in the spring to continue his education, after he’s been able to settle in and adapt to his new schedule.
“I plan to make the most of this opportunity” says Ryan “by utilizing the professional guidance and advice from Coaches Dave Synnott, Jackson Thom, and Luke Rose in developing my self physical (I need to gain 20lbs); learning to discipline my body with vigorous conditioning and playing hard core rugby when given the opportunity to perform my best on the pitch”.
Ryan goes on to share “I already feel a positive great energy from my roommates Mika Kruse from California, Josh Zamudio from Tennessee, and Dylan Cahill from Nebraska. We’re going to have some fun in the process. Don’t get me wrong it is train hard, play hard…look good, and having fun”.
We want to thank Ryan’s mother Sonya James for providing us with all the details and photos we needed for this story, but also the help of the Old Aztecs in tracking down the James family. We look forward to seeing Ryan and the other California selections blossom in Glendale’s system and hopefully become professionals and future Eagles.