With Humboldt’s Lumberjack football gone rugby can take the spotlight.
Rugby will never be able to replace the gap left by Humboldt State University’s football departure. If youth athletes within the Humboldt community want youth to play a contact sport and watch anything that resembles football, it’s rugby. Not only are they going to be able to watch a contact sport, but they are also going to watch a top level team.
HSU’s rugby team has been a part of the campus since 1973. The team was Division 1 and battled with the likes of Cal Berkeley and Chico State until 1998, when they became a Division 2 team.
As a Division 2 team they had their most success in 2005, when they made it to the National Championship but came up short to Colorado State.
Since then, HSU Rugby has been a part of the National Collegiate Rugby league. The team had great success over the last four years, ranking seventh in the nation without the chance to play the national championship due to COVID-19.
Much of the team’s success is thanks to ex-football players at HSU and the recruiting of local and Division1 club rugby. Latufeao Kolopeaua, a junior at HSU and former football player, was recruited to join the rugby team after the football team was disbanded in July of 2018.
“If it weren’t for rugby here at Humboldt I would have transferred over to Montana Tech to play football,” Kolopeaua said. “Even though I sometimes dislike the decisions by this university, I’m very happy I was able to stay here and play rugby because the university is cheap, close to my home of LA, compared to Montana, and I really like it here.”
HSU Rugby is a great opportunity for local high school athletes, like myself who went to McKinleyville High and played rugby for Chico Rugby club, to still play a contact sport while also staying local. Tali Fonoti, an incoming freshman for the rugby team, was a running back for St. Bernard’s Academy’s team, who won the Division 3 state championship.
“I wouldn’t be staying here if it weren’t for rugby,” Fonoti said. “If Humboldt offered football then I would be playing for them. I’m happy to be able to stay here and play a sport and to be honest, the rugby team is the only reason I’m staying up here. It is my first time playing rugby, but it is something I’ve watched a little bit growing up. There is just no youth rugby in Humboldt which is the only reason I didn’t play.”
Picking up rugby came easy to Fonoti. He believes rugby could be the sport to fill the gap of HSU football for local high school athletes.
“I don’t think it is that hard to transition from football to rugby,” Fonoti said. “I was always in a sport so I am confident in my ability to pick one up easily. The fundamentals of tackling and running the ball are almost the same. If any high school kids wanted to stay up here and play a contact sport I would be for sure talking them up to play rugby because it’s not that hard to learn.”
Logan McDaniel, a freshman from Belmont, never would have heard of HSU if it weren’t for rugby.
“I would be playing rugby or football at another school,” McDaniel said. “Humboldt wouldn’t have even been on my radar. I’m happy I was recruited and they have some sort of contact sport at Humboldt because I love it up here.”
Although HSU football is disbanded and can never be fully replaced by any sport, rugby could be the one that comes closest to filling the gap for the community. Local athletes will be able to stay home, save money and play for a nationally ranked collegiate team.