The history of Coal Region football is well-documented, but, in reality, not everyone who leaves area high schools with expectations of playing in college actually makes it to the field. Be that as it may, there's an alternative to it for those who want to continue to compete.
"Rugby is an amazing game," says Pat Boyle, a 2003 graduate of Marian High School who found his niche at Villanova University and continues to play the sport in "men's club" while coaching it at Temple University.
Boyle's Owls will be among 16 teams participating in the NBC-sponsored "USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship" to be played this weekend at the Philadelphia Union Stadium, Chester. "Sevens" refers to a seven-man team, which, Boyle says, is gaining notoriety inasmuch as the Olympics committee has adopted that version of rugby for competition in the 2016 games.
A son of John and Kathleen Boyle of Tamaqua, Pat hopes area residents, particularly high school students – will take a look at the game he calls "an unbelievable spectator sport."
His journey from a 5-7, 175-pound noseguard for the Marian Colts to the rugby field is quite interesting. "When I went to Villanova, I was looking for something to do and rugby filled that void," he said. "I developed later in life, and while I'm still the smallest guy on the pitch, 160 pounds, athletically, I came into my own in college as my fitness and speed just kept growing."
For his current teammates as well, it is a stretch to think he was a noseguard. "A lot of my teammates now are former Division I athletes who came to rugby after college, and I still get many funny looks when I tell them I was a noseguard. Every athlete's body is different, it just took my body 20 years to figure it out," Boyle said.
Boyle began playing for VU and on summer break from school started playing for a men's club in Bethlehem. That's where he met Emil Signes, considered by many as the"godfather of USA sevens," who introduced him to seven-man rugby. "For me, at first, rugby was somewhat social, but I saw the other side of it," Boyle said. He called Signes the "John Wooden of seven-manr ugby," pointing out he learned things about the game that someone who plays it socially would never learn. Boyle said, "Emil and even more so Emil's number one pupil, Joe Morrison, took my game to a whole different level. Rugby was no longer something I did. It became a matter of how far could I go with this."
Through his playing experience, Boyle has traveled to places like Trinidad and Paraguay. "The whole rugby experience has been great," he said.
Although rugby is not a NCAA sport, college campuses have been introduced to the game at a rapid pace. Typically, colleges play 15-man lineups. The game is not governed by the NCAA, but runs through U.S.A. Rugby, Boyle said. Because of that, it is "very rare" for rugby to have "varsity status," in colleges, with around 10 schools in the country actually having it listed as a varsity sport.
"Sevens rugby is a true gladiator sport," Boyle says. "It's sprinting for 14 minutes (seven-man teams play two seven-minute halves). There are no pads, but lots of hitting. The pace is blistering, and it's basically passing, catching, running and tackling without the benefit of linemen."
As the Temple coach, Boyle oversees a squad of 12. They practice three nights per week, while a fourth night is set aside as a mandatory fitness night. "The word, 'club sport' gets thrown around a lot in rugby, but people who come out and see these kids train will find out very quickly that this is no club sport," he said.
Boyle likens the regiment to high school football players' schedule, noting to be competitive requires commitment. He said, "In the Coal Regions, there were so many great athletes, me not being one of them, in high school. They practice, practice, practice, and then play, and then, all of a sudden, careers (in football) are over. I found, and think others will too, that rugby is there for so many people, if only they can learn about it."
Boyle, who currently plays for the Schuylkill River Exiles, Philadelphia, added, "Rugby is a great avenue for the many athletes of our area to get involved with in college, instead of not competing competitively if they are no longer playing football. Even if they do play a sport in college, it's there after as well."
The "sevens" tournament is something NBC started three years ago when rugby sevens was accepted into the Olympics for 2016. Since then, more and more people are coming to learn the game and enjoy playing and watching it.
That's why Boyle is recommending sports fans take in this weekend's championships."It's an unbelievable spectator sport too," he said.
NBC Sports will telecast the games on Saturday, June 2, from 2-4:30 p.m., while NBC will air them the same day from 4:30-6 p.m. On Sunday, June 3, the telecasts will resume from 2-4 p.m. on NBC Sports and from 4-6 p.m. on NBC.
Since his graduation from Villanova in 2007, Boyle has been employed as the assistant budget director for the Division of Developmental Disabilities for the State of New Jersey. He is married to the former Lauren Campanelli of Langhorne. The couple resides in Jenkintown.
For more information about rugby "sevens" and the tournament, go to www.usasevenscrc.com .