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Part 2 - So You Want to Play MLR: The Collegiate Pathway

Photo Credit: Linda Brothers

Part 1 Covered the pathway for Senior players competing in domestic club Rugby in North America.  This article will attempt to examine the pathway for current college players in North America seeking an MLR contract.  It will read significantly like the Eagles or Les Rouges pathway.  Not every player coming out of college that has earned an MLR contract has been in the Eagles or Les Rouges pathway, but this is likely the best way forward.

Collegiate Rugby in the US and Canada are in different places. However, Collegiate Rugby remains the top development pathway for American and Canadian Rugby athletes.  In Part 3 I'll attempt to examine the pathway for high school athletes.  As mentioned in Part 1, having film is extremely important, if there is no film, there is no ability for you to be evaluated.  The athlete is their own salesperson.

 I'll focus mainly on the US, but touch on the Canadian Structure as it pertains to Ontario.  Due to the number of collegiate programs in BC, the BC Collegiate clubs compete within the BC Senior Rugby club structure.  UBC and UVic Currently compete in the BC Premier League.

For players currently in college in the US, there's the competitions governed by USA Rugby (D1AA and D2), D1A, and NSCRO.  Currently D1A is the top level of collegiate rugby in the US, but players from NSCRO teams have earned contracts with MLR teams.  Jeremy Misailegalu is an example.

U20 Athletes:

Starting at the beginning of your collegiate career, earning solid playing time to get notice for national camps and eventual selection with the U20s programs in the US and Canada.  If you're a camp invite, this will get you on the radar of Major League Rugby coaches and GMs.  With the restructure of Junior World Trophy qualifying, achieving selection to the U20s is a highly significant development opportunity.  2020 will be the first year of a U20 Americas Rugby Championship, this will give up to 5 match opportunities for the selected collegiate athletes in June 2020.  The U20s coach, Scott Bracken is currently taking nominations for the squad, it's important that your college coach is one of your greatest advocates.  The process is similar for CAN U20s.

If you're a U20 player that is not selected for the U20s pathway, it is important to continue to seek out further development opportunities with various select sides.  Certain MLR teams run Summer U23 Academy Programs.  Toronto Arrows, Rugby United New York, and Utah Warriors all have Sub-Academies that meet on a limited basis that provide additional development opportunities for athletes.  If you're an athlete in the Southern United States, USA South runs several High Performance programs that will provide high level development opportunities.  Finally for U20 players, Summer 7s with Senior Clubs in the US.

U23 Athletes:

Being a multi-year starter with your college program will separate you from the pack.  Over 1,000 male rugby players graduate every year from collegiate programs.  The next step in the pathway that will provide numerous opportunities for you to be scouted also overlap with the club pathway.

For both US and Canadian University players there has been a showcase event held the last two seasons, this year it came into full fruition with the Canadian University Selects played a curtain raiser against the Collegiate All-Americans. During the All-American Camp, representatives were in attendance all week observing and evaluating the prospects that remained unsigned.  This will occur again this coming Summer.

However, what if you're not selected to the All-Canadian University team or College All-American squad, what can you do?

If you're an NSCRO athlete, NSCRO has a regional all-star tournament, in 2020 it will be hosted by the Houston SaberCats.

Every Summer once collegiate and university terms are over, American players are able to play Summer 7s with Senior Clubs.  In Canada, student-athletes are able to play immediately during the Summer with Senior Clubs.  This is highly encouraged.  In addition to this, student-athletes are also eligible to play for their provincial teams.

For the non-Canadians there are additional identification pathways that have been used to sign players.  As mentioned in Part 1, the USA South Panthers provide a great development environment as they compete in the Rugby Americas North Championships.  In addition to the USA South Panthers; Capital Rugby Union Selects Performance Program does a tour usually every winter, they're now sponsored by Old Glory DC.

Now linking in with MLR Specific pathways for Collegiate and U23 pathways.  Slowly but surely most MLR teams will have a U23 Sub-Academy that is fed mostly by Collegiate players, but they will be open to club players if you're not in the collegiate system.  During the summer of 2018 Austin Herd held a U23 Academy, they played various club sides.  During the following winter, they also executed various training weekends.

In 2019, the following teams had some type of in house U23 Academy Programs

Colorado Raptors- Resident Academy
Utah Warriors- Sub Academy (Warriors Selects)
Rugby United New York- Sub-Academy
Rugby ATL- 404 Rugby
San Diego Legion - OMBAC and MiraCosta College Partners

In 2020, the Toronto Arrows Sub-Academy Program will launch with multiple training sites throughout Ontario.

The most mature pathway of them all has been the Raptors which have run their Academy program since Season 1 and have graduated several players onto MLR programs.  However, I would stress that the path to professionalism is arduous and that completing a 4-year education or trade-program should be paramount in the minds college athletes and their parents when assessing the leap and pathway to an MLR team.

In Part 1 I discussed the Senior Player Pathway, in Part 3 we will attempt to navigate the rocky waters of the pathway starting at the High School level.

~Aaron Castro