At a smaller Division I school like Marist College, it’s not difficult to put a name to the face of the many athletes competing for the school. After walking around campus for four years with their bright red backpacks and constant Marist Athletics apparel, these athletes have established themselves as just that — athletes. As they round the corner to graduation, the question remains: who are they outside of their sport?
The following story is a part of Center Field’s 19 for ‘19: Stories of the Senior Class series.
Siena was at the goal line, about to score on the Marist rugby team.
Then-Marist freshman Jake Reinhardt was the first ruck, which meant he would be the first to wrestle for the ball on the ground against the other team. His head clashed against a Siena player. Then his jaw popped. “I had friends that were watching the game from the parking lot above, and they said that they heard the pop.”
Jake couldn’t talk for a week because of the injury, but the cure did not come from a doctor. The remedy was inside the Marist dining hall, more specifically, its pizza. “The funny thing is in the dining hall a week later, it popped in a weird way and it was back in place.”
Dislocating his jaw is just one on the list of injuries he has sustained from rugby.
“There are so many injuries that you get from rugby,” he says. “I’ve separated my shoulder, broken my foot, and dislocated my jaw. I wouldn’t say it’s prideful to get hurt because you want to be playing. But playing up until you really get hurt and battling through it is [a point of pride].”
Ironically, Jake’s rugby career was birthed because of concussions while playing football.
The origin story for most athletes that join club rugby is similar. Most played football in high school, and then tried rugby to continue playing a contact sport. For Jake, this was partially true, although he started playing earlier than most of his teammates. He played center and middle linebacker in high school, and was beginning to get recruited at colleges in Philadelphia area; His goal was to be a long snapper for a college team. But after he suffered a concussion during his sophomore season, Jake was told that he had to sit out for a year. After that concussion, his football career was all but finished, but he wanted to continue to play a sport. “I couldn’t take a year and a half of just playing video games. I couldn’t stand it,” he said.
Jake started to play rugby after his friends encouraged him to join their nationally ranked team. “At first, it was definitely confusing… it was a brand new sport,” Jake said. But he caught on quickly, and after his first full season, he won the team’s MVP award. The award was a decisive moment for Jake deciding to continue with the sport.
“I was sort of surprised and I actually have it framed on my wall,” Jake said. “After I got that, I was like ‘maybe I should stick with this and pursue it.’”
When Jake came to Marist, he reconnected with his high school rugby teammate, Kevin Lynch, who is two years older. Lynch was already on the Marist rugby team and encouraged the freshman to try it out. He attended a couple of practices to get a sense of the team and became friends with members of the team before deciding to join. Coming from a program in high school that was an elite team, he had to readjust his expectation with the club team.
“It was very unorganized,” Jake said about his first season. “I came from a nationally ranked program. We were playing for nationals all the time. A bunch of the guys went all over the United States to play rugby. When I came here, I knew it wasn’t going to be the same way because I got blessed with the coaches I had in high school.”
During his sophomore season, Jake’s role became more vital. He coached the team during the spring season, after his freshman season coach stepped down after having a child. He was running practices, setting lineups, and leading the team.
“Rugby got me there,” Jake said about his leadership skills. “I always saw myself as a leader, but I never had any major leadership roles. When I played rugby, I was a captain, player, [and a] coach.
“I have to be everyone’s role model for at least work ethic.” Jake said. “How to play the game, how to compose themselves… We recruit a few guys. The guys that I want to be in my position their senior year… I kinda have molded them the way I should have been freshman year. To build through that so they are more prepared junior year.”
To Jake and his teammates, rugby is only a club sport by definition. Although the schedule is not quite as rigorous as a Division I team, it’s still a major commitment. The team runs practices three to four times a week from September to December. Then they return from break and practice for the spring season from March to May. They play 15 games in the fall and seven in the spring.
Jake talked about the emotional drain of playing rugby, physically and mentally. He recalled a specific time when his teammate was emotionally drained.
“We played against the United States Merchant Marines Academy, and we got blown out. It was a team that we thought was going to be bad, but turned out to be really good. One of my friends was yelling screaming freaking out at the end of the game, yelling, screaming on the verge of tears. You see that with rugby it’s such a physical sport, you expel all of your energy to the point where you are in tears because you are exhausted.”
Jake is graduating with a degree in Business Marketing and a Public Relations minor. Wherever Jake ends up working, there are men’s rugby clubs all over the country.
“I do and don’t,” Jake said about wanting to play rugby after this year. “I would love to play rugby and to the point where I don’t have to be super committed to it.
“I know wherever I end up, I’ll find a men’s team. And every time that I am not at a practice I will be thinking about it.” Jake then paused for a moment. “I probably will play, let’s be honest.”
Edited by the Center Field Editorial Team.
Header image by Kristin Flanigan.