Several years ago after finishing 3rd in the Nation (Division 2), the Old Aztecs of San Diego opted to jump up in the competition and play in Southern California Rugby Football Union (SCRFU)’s D1 where they'd face some pretty high quality competition. Over the past few years they’ve move their way up to the topside of the competition making themselves one of the yearly contenders for that Union's title and still continued to grow its second side into a full side that was playing in a lower division.
The Old Aztecs are not afraid of competition and have stepped up whenever the opportunity has presented itself. Most recently when they were approached to step in to play in the new California Cup Competition, the Old Aztecs not only accepted, but were able to hold their own winning a game and keeping most of their games significantly close.
We reached out for a follow up to an earlier story we'd written on the Old Aztecs with Club President Jaco Breytenbach to learn more about this successful club that continues to grow and progress in its development as a top tier club. Below is our interview.
The Rugby Republic (RR): How excited were you that the Old Aztecs got kick off the initial California Cup and being invited to be a part of that competition?
Jaco Breytenback (JB): We were very excited. It'was great to be testing ourselves against the quality of players in the competition. Playing against top players and clubs can only make us better as a club.
RR: So how does this play into your season? You’ll play in a competitive SCRFU D1. Is there a risk of having too much wear and tear on the players or injuries by starting off the year with the California Cup?
JB: Two of the games overlap with the D1 season. We were concerned about wear and tear, but our season has been shortened by a few games to facilitate a new D1 team. So we view this as a chance to play three high level pre-season games, and the rest of it is D1. In addition, Belmont and OMBAC are both also playing in this competition (who also play in D1), so we felt that we would be a step behind in D1 if we didn't take on this challenge.
RR: Your club as you noted plays OMBAC in the California Cup. So is there any rivalry yet, and if not do you see this being able to spark a rivalry between these two well established regional clubs?
JB: Over the last few years we've been able to build a small rivalry. We don't pull all the big name players, but we've been able to be very competitive with them. The last three years we've been able to beat their D1 team regularly, and also push their PRP team who we usually played early season. So the rivalry is growing and will hopefully keep getting stronger. I believe that good teams and clubs should push each other, and both of us have our own unique value proposition. So it's good to have options and clubs that can push each other to keep getting better.
RR: Your second side will play in SCRFU D3? How has that worked for the club to have two sides playing in competition where there is a “winner” or something on the line?
JB: Our second side will actually be stepping up and be in SCRFU D2! It's been good to have two teams that can both give guys game time, but also give us internal competition for positions. And having the teams play for something keeps everyone interested. It's really a win-win for the Old Aztecs.
RR: Has it been challenging for the club to manage and field two different sides? What are the challenges, and also how do does the club make it work?
JB: It is somewhat challenging when we travel to different locations to ensure numbers stay up and both sides are strong, but we have a good club culture that tries to be inclusive and give many guys game time. We felt like our club has grown, and rugby in our area has grown. But you will always have guys that miss out and then leave the club, so we always try to work on ways to keep guys interested.
RR: In 2011 the Old Aztecs were in the D2 Final Four (and defeated fellow California side Fresno for 3rd placed) and opted to move up to D1 after that season versus another run in D2. How has that move translated into success for the club?
JB: I think the move forced us to focus on more holistic rugby. In D2 you could win games with a few talented players and fitness. But in D1 you need to be technically strong and have good depth. So the move up really forced us to look at all our structures. It also forced us to look at how we manage the club in general. We had to look at everything from fundraising, to having a professional appearance, to recruiting, to coaching. But all these changes these were all positive changes that have translated into success. We continue to strive to improve these things and operate more professionally each year.
RR: What is the level of affiliation with the SDSU men’s rugby club today?
JB: At this point we don't have much, other than a history of former players from SDSU who started the club. Traditionally, many of the SDSU were mostly coached by OMBAC players. So there is a strong affiliation with OMBAC and SDSU that will be difficult to penetrate. But we do occasionally get the player who chose to join us, and we are happy about that.
RR: Where do the Old Aztecs get their players from then? In San Diego there are a number of college programs (SDSU, University of San Diego, University of California San Diego, Point Loma Nazarene University, etc.) do you get a number of players from those programs, or from local high schools, etc.?
JB: Most of our players are usually people that move from other parts of the state or county and either heard of us, or played against us. We have a strong social culture and people enjoy the club when they join us. Other than that it's word of mouth, or local players who went to a local college or high school program. We are currently looking at ways to potentially get more involved with the youth and expand our horizons to find good players from all over the country to play with us in San Diego.
RR: How have the Old Aztecs been able to establish the Old Aztec “brand” in a market which has a great deal of rugby (you have clubs like the Surfers, you have PRP side with OMBAC, you’ve had and may still have the PRO’s Breakers, as well as the OTC with Eagles). So how have you been able to make the Aztecs stand out?
JB: Our social and family culture is something that keeps players around. We also always try and keep our club grounded and control egos, so we try and be very welcoming when new players show up. Rugby is meant for all people to enjoy and we want people to feel like they add value to us. We also have a strong support network and wives and girlfriends have all become friends. This helps with our family and friend based atmosphere, and have helped us keep guys around.
RR: What has been the formula or contributing factors to the Old Aztec’s success on the pitch? Pool of players, recruitment, youth programs, club’s structure, coaches, etc.?
JB: It's been a combination of commitment to our brand, coaching, and experience. But we do have many older players, so we are actively looking at ways to reinvigorate in case we lose that. Our coaching structures have also been good with people that really care about our success. We don't have a huge budget, so we've been very lucky to get the quality coaches we've had over the last five years. And then we always enjoy the game. Most importantly you need to play rugby because you like it.
RR: What will be the biggest challenges this coming season for the Old Aztec’s D1 and D2 sides? Is it the travel, the competition (as its pretty good in SCRFU)?
JB: The challenge will be the competition without a doubt. With the PRP not happening until the fall, the PRP teams (Santa Monica, OMBAC, Belmont Shore) will be full strength in D1 and D2. So both teams will need to be at their best this season.
RR: What is the Old Aztec’s goal for this coming season?
JB: The goal is to win the D1 and D2 SoCal championship, and then push into the top 4 in national finals.
RR: You said that the club doesn’t have a large budget. How much support and or involvement does the club get from its Old Boys, the community, sponsors, etc.? Especially being in a market where there is a lot of rugby does that pose any problems?
JB: Every year we are able to improve our sponsorship and community. We have a few long time sponsors and we really value their support. We want to improve our Old Boy connection and ensure they stay proud of us and also support us. Many of the top clubs get funding from old boys and a few wealthy backers or parent clubs. We don't at this time so money is a constant challenge. But we find ways to make things work through member support and fundraising. Although there's a lot of rugby in our market, we are also in a large market in general. So there are always new ways to increase funding.
RR: How has PRO Rugby, and specifically having a team in San Diego impacted your club? More interest in rugby? More guys looking to get to the next level, or something else?
JB: At the beginning of the season we definitely saw an uptick. But I don't think that the level of advertising, or lack off, really got that many people involved that would not have been involved otherwise. The Olympics probably had a bigger impact.
RR: The Old Aztecs have stepped up again by joining the California Cup, is there any interest or even through to some day try and have a side in the PRP?
JB: It all depends on funding. PRP will be very expensive (the travel) and we won't be able to afford that at the moment, without a really big sponsor. But if the Cal Cup expands next year, we will probably be interested.
RR: What is some advice that the Old Aztecs as a club can pass on to other clubs in the State?
JB: Rugby is about creating culture, both on and off the field. If you believe in excellence on the field, and having fun off it, people will buy into it and stay with you. The other piece of advice is to find people that are passionate to run the club. It is hard, so you need to find people that can buy into the club vision, and then help execute it. 90% of the people just want to show up and play, so you can't expect everyone to help. But find the 10%, use them, and most imporantly appreciate them!
We want to thank Jaco and the Old Aztec Rugby Club for their time and sharing some of the work they'v done to build up their club and establishing themselves as one of the top clubs in the State. We wish them them the best of luck this season and commend them for their great play in the Cal Cup. For more information visit their website www.oarugbysandiego.com.