So why is it that they've been a college club program since 1974, they've dominated in the D1-AA for years, with runs at nationals like clockwork, boost a great coaching staff and yet they are not a household name in most rugby communities? That is what we through after speaking to Long Beach State’s head coach Jason Reynolds.
Not only does the Long Beach State 49ers have a long history of success they have a current run of success as well including right now which will position the 49ers for another great run this coming collegiate season. Some pre-season highlights include the 49ers are 11-1 at this time. They are 4-1 versus D-1A teams including defeating UC-Santa Barbara, the University of Oklahoma (who was ranked in the top 25 of the D1A clubs) and their only loss was this past weekend to San Diego State (another D-1A top 25 side)! They won so far this preseason the 46th Annual High Desert Classic Tournament in New Mexico and the 13th Annual CSULB (Long Beach State) Fall Collegiate 15’s Tournament.
So we wanted to know more about this program and why they aren’t the talk of the rugby community? Below is our interview with Head Coach Reynolds.
The Rugby Republic (RR): Coach, you have nearly 40 players on your roster for this season, how have you managed to maintain those numbers?
Coach Jason Reynolds (JR): We work hard at trying to keep all players engaged with the team and focus on them having enough playtime to stay involved, with the most difficult aspect being having play time for the new players. With less 15’s tournaments and many clubs only able to field one team or are focused on 7’s, the fall is a challenge for us.
RR: So how have you been recruiting players?
JR: We are definitely reaching out to youth programs. The youth and high school programs have really taken off in the last 10 years so there is a larger pool of players coming into college with rugby knowledge. This has raised the level of competition at the collegiate level.
RR: How many of your players are returning players, how many are new, and how is that a factor in your success over the past few years and so far this season?
JR: We have about nine starters back this year, so that is good frame work to build around. We have been lucky to have a balanced flow of graduating seniors and incoming skillful athletes. However, injuries always have a big effect on the team in regards to the depth of experience off the bench, especially late in the season and the post season.
RR: Your club has beaten a Top 25 D1-A club (in OU) and played several other D-1A teams. What did beating a top 25 D-1A side mean for your club and how is that impacting the club’s attitude for the season?
JR: We definitely try to play up in the preseason to be better prepared for our league. We are 4-1 against D1A teams this fall. Beating a ranked team such as OU does build confidence just as losing to San Diego State shows the guys there is more to work on to get to where we want to be.
RR: Coach you went outside your region and competed in the High Desert Tourney out in New Mexico where you faced a host of different schools and you went on to achieved the tournament’s Collegiate Championship! How has getting a different look at clubs and sides you don’t normally see help you in this coming season?
JR: It is always good to challenge yourself. As with most programs, you are limited to the same handful of teams in the preseason and then again in league. We felt that it was really important to see where we stood this year. Being invited to the High Desert Classic by the tournament chairman Marty Watts was a great opportunity to see teams our program has never played before. Having the opportunity to play a team like OU, who was ranked #21 in D1A this fall, twice over the weekend was great. The size of the Midwestern teams was definitely something our guys hadn’t gone up against before. We played OU in cross pool play on Saturday and then again in the Tournament Championship on Sunday. Being down and frustrated at the half of the first game on Saturday, I was very happy that we were able to adjust our game and mind set and shut them out in the second half and win the game. The confidence gained from that was very valuable. We were able to use that and defeat them in the final on Sunday as well.
RR: So tell everyone how has Long Beach State gotten its program to this point? You’ve had two undefeated seasons in a row, won your conference five years in a row, gone to the USA Rugby National playoffs six years in a row, have a 40 man roster, beat a top 25 D1-A team, etc.?
JR: We practice discipline and the basics of rugby to the point where I know the guys are probably bored with it. Our philosophy is not any big secret. If you preform the basics well and consistently play smart controlled rugby, you will be in a better position than your opponent to capitalize on mistakes. We tell the guys that “Luck” looks a lot like hard work.
RR: How has the program been able to build such a great coaching staff (as most college clubs have one coach and not much else), and how has having a true coaching staff helped your program?
JR: We are unique in the fact that all of our coaches are Long Beach State Rugby alumni. We have all learned rugby through the same disciplined and consistent culture that is Long Beach State Rugby. I’m only the 4th head coach that our club has had in its 43 year history! Our club was founded in 1974 by Dr Dale “Doc” Toohey who coached the team until 2003. During his coaching career he was also the head coach of SoCal Griffins, Pacific Coast Grizzles and the Head Coach for the Collegiate All American’s from 1994-2001. He is retired now but is still involved with advising.
Our Forward coaches are Mark Stackhouse and Rodell Luarca. Coach Mark Stackhouse has been coaching the forwards for 32yrs. He was a former Head Coach for the So Cal Griffins and has had several of his players selected as All Americans. Rodell Luarca started coaching with us 2013. He was part of Belmont Shores Super League Championship team in 2007 and was a SoCal Griffin when he played at Long Beach State.
Our Backs coach Bob Kaplan has been with the Club for over 26yrs. He was on our 1989 team that played for the National Championship against Air Force. He was the All American team Backs Coach from 1998-2001 and was the Backs Coach for several of the Belmont Shore Men’s Super League Championship teams. Bob has had several of his backs selected as All Americans including most recently, our #9 Roland Blackiston this year. So the pedigree that our coaching staff has and the success of the team both come back to our culture as a club which we are very proud of.
RR: Do you operate one program or do you break things into a 7s program and 15s program, or just one program and change focus depending on the season? Do you have players training throughout the school year?
JR: We are traditionally a 15’s program. The explosive growth of 7’s in the past five years has changed the collegiate rugby scene. We did have former US Eagle (15’s/7’s) Al Lakomskis for one season in 2013 where we were very successful and competitive. We are currently working on having Al come back in 2017 and run a 7’s program for us.
RR: Being based in southern California with so many men’s clubs, do your players join up with any clubs in the summer to run some 7s? Have area clubs been open to helping and supporting the program and your players?
JR: We have historically been very close and partner with Belmont Shore. They use our rugby ground as their home field and we feed into them as the players graduate and continue on with their rugby career. We do have players that train and play the men’s 7’s circuit during the summer with Belmont.
RR: So do most your players come to the club with prior experience, or is it something they pick up there? How many of them go on to play after college?
JR: I would say only about 10% of our players come in with prior rugby knowledge. The good thing is that this percentage is quickly growing as the high school and club programs grow in and around southern California.
RR: What is needed or the next steps to get Long Beach State to where you envision it?
JR: We are in a very positive position with the University and I think their support will continue to grow. This will help in developing partnerships with local high school clubs and we hope to see an influx of those players being accepted to the University. This will be key in getting us to the next level.
RR: Do you feel that Long Beach State is given the recognition as top level program yet? You guys have build a successful program shouldn’t you have that reputation?
JR: As a program we have had very few losing seasons in our 43yr history. We have made it to the Final 4 several times in the late 80’s and early 90’s, played for the D1 National Championship in 1989 against Air Force, produced a number of US Eagles, and 14 All Americans. Currently, we have been in the D1-AA National Championship playoffs for six consecutive years. We are a consistently solid program, and I’m more concerned with what we accomplish on the field and developing our student athletes into well rounded people. Their love for the sport and their giving back to the program as Alumni is recognition enough for me that our club is doing things right.
RR: In closing is there anything you’d like to add to share coach?
JR: Go Beach!
We want to thank Coach Jason Reynolds for his time and all his help with this interview. We understand this is a busy time for him so we are grateful for his assistance. If you weren’t familiar with the Long Beach State rugby program you should be now. And if you've read this you should then know that this is really an unsung perennial rugby program that is deserving of a lot more recognition. Remember this is a D1-AA side that steps up to take on D1-A sides (and top 25 ones at that) to test themselves. You have to respect that. If the 49ers can keep their numbers and play as they have this pre-season they should be serious contender come nationals.
You can follow the 49ers’ season on @LB49erRugby.