Mar 052009
 
Authors: Matt L. Stephens

Is it football, is it soccer, or is it both?

No matter how you want to slice it, the game of rugby is one that takes mental and physical toughness to the next level. At least that’s the case for the CSU Rugby team. This group of young men works their hearts out all year long for nothing else but the love of the game.

No paid scholarships, no national media coverage. Even head coach Blake Stevens is a volunteer working for no pay at all. It’s basically just a bunch of guys who enjoy contact sports. Thus is the case for Charlie Pappas, a native of Steamboat Springs.

“I grew up playing football in high school, but the senior injuries kind of killed the dream,” Pappas said. “I came across some old men who played rugby and have loved it ever since.”

While injuries may have slowed Pappas in high school while playing linebacker and tight end, it’s not something that has stopped him since.

“I can’t stop playing rugby … I blow out my shoulder just about every week or I get punched in the face during every game.”

Senior captain Dan Wonstolen even has a nickname for the beatings he has taken over the years. His teammates call him “Toothless” due to the fact that his front four teeth are false from a combination of rugby, football and some old fashioned brotherly love.

But Wonstolen did get revenge for the tooth his brother cost him.

“We’re best friends now,” Wonstolen said. “He actually played for (CU-Boulder), so I got to face him a bunch. One time I just trucked him … it was awesome.”

Even through the recurring injuries and lost teeth, the hard work is worth it as the Rams finished one of their best seasons in school history in the fall, and are now preparing for the playoffs on April 4.

“We’re looking good this year,” said club President Logan Collins. “Unfortunately, as every year, we have problems with injuries. We have guys with bad shoulders, bad knees, bad ankles. So it’s kind of hard to build up momentum without playing the same fifteen guys all the time. We’ve lost a couple close games against good competition, but I think we have some big games coming up that we’ll be ready for.”

In Division-I Club Rugby, the teams play league games during the fall semester to determine seeding in the playoffs come April. Between the start of the spring semester and the playoffs, collegiate club teams generally face area men’s clubs to help keep their squads in rhythm. CSU plays the Fort Collins Flamingos on Saturday.

No matter how the Rams finish their 2008-2009 season, every player on the roster has a chance to move on and play rugby even after their eligibility expires.

“I’ve got one more year of eligibility left,” Pappas said. “I took some time off from school, so I’m kind of on the Van Wilder plan when it comes to academics, but I have one more year of eligibility to play rugby here at CSU.

“I’m going to play men’s club teams after college. Rugby is a game that you just can’t stop playing. It’s not just a sport, it’s an atmosphere. It’s a friendship. Rugby is out there in every aspect in life.”

Sports writer Matt L. Stephens can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

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