San Diego. It may be one of the most ideal locations in all of the United States. Its right on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Its got great weather all year round. Its one of the major cities in the United States, and yet has the laid back chill vibes of a small ocean side surf town. It is also a hotbed of rugby action!
San Diego has played host to the USA Eagles, the HSBC 7s World Series (before Vegas), PRO Rugby, and home to the USA Eagles' 7s training base (technically in Chula Vista, but close enough). It has two top level D1 Clubs, Old Mission Beach Athletic Club (OMBAC) and the San Diego Old Aztecs who play in the California Cup a (and OMBAC in Pacific Primer League before that). The Women's Premier League (WPL) San Diego Surfers and outstanding women's collegiate side UC-San Diego are part of the local rugby scene. Lastly, a number of college programs also call San Diego home. University of San Diego is one of those programs.
University of San Diego (USD) is a top level university in San Diego, that overlooks Mission Bay. The small Catholic institution was ranked 86th in the entire nation (2017) by USA News and World Report.
We wanted to learn more about this rugby program in San Diego and shed some light on them. All the college/university programs in San Diego play at different levels, and all make a mark in their respected competitions.
We were able to chat with USD Toreros Head Coach Kevin Eaton. Prior to taking on the head coaching duties at USD, Kevin was and assistant coach at USD, as well as a former player/alumni of USD.
Below is our conversation.
The Rugby Republic (RR): Talk a bit about taking over as head coach? What made your take the job and what's your coaching approach?
Kevin Eaton (KE): As soon as I graduated from USD, I joined the coaching staff as an assistant coach. I spent a couple years as an understudy to former head coach Andrew Castle. Under Castle and former forwards coach Jeff Sparks, I learned how to coach at the collegiate level. When those two left we discussed a succession plan in which I would take over as head coach. So my coaching approach is a mixture of those two coaches, with my own style added in.
RR: Having been an assistant coach in the USD program, and now the head coach, how vital is your coaching staff to the team?
KE: Extremely vital. They make the team what it is. Chike Outlaw does an amazing job as our forwards and set piece coach. Ryan Schott helps out with the loose forwards with a focus on the breakdown. Scott Thomas handles strength and conditioning, handling everything from gym sessions to athlete nutrition. Because we are trying do all those things you need a great team to implement it.
All 3 coaches excel in their role, and have decorated rugby backgrounds. The program is lucky to have them.
RR: As a former USD player what makes USD Rugby special?
KE: USD Rugby is a club sport with varsity expectations. There is a level of dedication expected from a group of players that tests each individual, and allows them to be successful with the help of their teammates.
RR: The word is USD has a significant number of players returning. How many returning players do you have coming back?
KE: Yes. We have 25 returning players on our roster. We lost some key seniors last season but have some hardworking underclassmen who are ready to step up and make a name for themselves.
RR: Normally, what percentage of your players have rugby experience prior to joining you program?
KE: About one in five of our players has prior rugby experience. The majority of our current players are guys who come to college and fell in love with the game.
RR: A follow up along those lines, are most your players local or from out of the area?
KE: The majority of our players are from out of area. USD draws from all over the country and our team is a reflection of that. We currently have guys from 12 different states and several different countries on the team.
RR: What has been the key to recruitment and retention? You are not a varsity sport and yet have 25 returning players?
KE: The key to recruitment and retention has been and always will be the team culture. A core group of guys who love the game and work hard is infectious. The opportunity to be a college athlete is something that a lot of people strive for, and the opportunity to wear the jersey on Saturdays is always an incentive for new and returning players.
RR: Does the program get funding or financial support from the university?
KE: We do get funding from associated students at USD. They cover roughly 15% of our annual budget, with the rest coming from player dues and alumni support.
RR: Are you able to secure sponsors, etc with so many rugby clubs in the San Diego area?
KE: We currently do not have any sponsors but are seeking sponsorship.
RR: USD's Torero Stadium) was home pitch for both San Diego Breakers( formerly PRO Rugby) and the Eagles in their recent test match. Its a fantastic venue on a beautiful historic campus. How has or will USD use its fields/facilities to draw players and attention?
KE: It’s definitely great for us to have these rugby events here. I think USD has proven to the USA Rugby community it’s a great venue for rugby. While we are not given access to that field, I think the association between high-level rugby and the university will do nothing but help us. I think it’s a matter of time before USA Rugby hosts the college national championship in Torero Stadium.
RR: The program has past history of success and is trending up. What's been the catalyst for that?
KE: I think the catalyst was the previous coaching staff. Andrew Castle and Jeff Sparks created a new level of expectations that demanded a lot of the players. While the initial rise in commitment scared some players off, the core group that remained set a standard that current players are living up to.
RR: What are your goals for this coming season and/or how well can USD fair in conference?
KE: Our goal is to win the game in front of us. If we go out on Saturday and win, then we’ve met our goal until next Saturday. Our conference is very strong and whoever comes out of it will make noise at the national level. Long Beach State is a very good program with a consistent level of play. Claremont Colleges are coming off a NSCRO championship. CSU-Fullerton is always a handful. Loyola Marymount University (LMU) and CSU-Northridge are new entries this seasons and will definitely ruffle some feathers.
RR: How can USD standout in a pretty crowded rugby space in San Diego. We mean San Diego as mentioned earlier has has the Old Aztecs, OMBAC, SDSU, you guys Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU), UCSD, all standouts in their level.
KE: The great thing about San Diego college rugby is you’ve got teams being successful at so many different levels. You’ve got SDSU who consistently performs well at D-1A level. UC San Diego is competitive in DII. Then there’s Point Loma (PNLU) who have been having a lot of success at the NSCRO level. We are able to operate in the D1-AA level and have found success there. Our run to the National Final Four in 2014 showed what our program is capable of. So we think we do hold our won in our competition.
RR: Do your players play rugby after college (do they migrate to the Aztecs, OMBAC, or North County)?
KE: We do have players go on to play after college. OMBAC is the club of choice for guys who stay local. Bryce Baker is a USD alum who’s found success at the club level for OMBAC, captaining the 7’s side. Also OMBAC is in close proximity to us.
We want to thank the boys at USD Rugby for helping set up the interview as well as Coach Eaton for making the time for us to discuss thier program. So this year keep an eye on the Toreros and don't forget what a great place San Diego is for rugby. San Diego tends to get over shadowed by the bigger city regions (Bay area and Los Angeles), but they have venues, clubs and the players for great rugby to thrive.