In American International College’s final game of the 2011 rugby season, coach Josh Macy was looking for a spark.
Macy’s team had been having some trouble in the scrum, essentially an all-out battle for leverage and resulting possession of the ball. He sent freshman Jamal Hadley in to lead the way from his prop position.
What happened next amazed the seasoned coach.
“I watched Jamal go against this kid who’s been coached to stay hard and straight, with your back straight and a low body profile,” Macy said. “He turned this kid 90 degrees so he was facing his sideline. … He buried that kid.”
Hadley, a 2011 Lakeside High School graduate, chose rugby over the possibility of playing college football.
After a season in which he got playing time in a handful of games and even started one, he believes he made the right decision. That he played for a team that went undefeated and dominated its competition helps make his case even stronger.
“I definitely still want to learn more and keep growing as a rugby player,” Hadley said.
He’s excited, even if he’s about to experience a winter at the Springfield, Mass., school like none he’s seen before. It’s one of several aspects he’s still getting accustomed to.
“The first couple months of the (spring) season, we’ll practice inside the gym, just because there will be so much snow outside,” he said. “I definitely had to adjust at first … but now I’m kind of getting used to it.”
The Yellow Jackets scored 358 points and allowed only 51 during an unbeaten fall season in Rugby Northeast Conference play.
Still, not everything was rosy.
The end of the season was marred by a non-
compliance issue – several players were not certified correctly – that forced AIC out of a potential spot in the Rugby Northeast championship game.
Macy said he thought he sent in the paperwork for the players in question, who ended up ineligible because of the clerical error.
“It was disappointing, but at the same time we all took it in stride,” Hadley said. “Coach kept us in the loop of what was going on. While it sucks, you just have to kind of go on.”
Hadley said it didn’t tarnish a memorable freshman season in which AIC defeated Bentley, the No. 12 ranked team in the country. AIC also got into the national rankings.
His most memorable game was his lone start, a 36-8 win over Merrimack College.
While playing at the high school level with the Augusta Barbarians club team, Hadley would compete in halves that lasted 30 minutes, if that.
Meanwhile, college halves last 40 minutes.
“Playing a full game on that kind of level was hard,” said Hadley, who remembers being “exhausted” afterward. “You have to push yourself through it.”
Macy said that AIC is mulling several options. It could remain in Division II and try to win a national championship. The program also is considering a move to Division I.
That sort of thing happens when a team consistently blows out its opponents.
Shawn Elms coached Hadley with the Augusta club team. The two have kept in touch.
Though he had confidence in Hadley’s abilities, he said that nobody was sure how he would stack up against the competition, because the Lakeside alum is a trailblazer for the local rugby team.
Elms likened Hadley’s move to the AIC squad to a wishbone quarterback in football going to a heavy passing offense in college.
“We run a slow, big guy-oriented offense in rugby,” he said. “They run a fast, speed offense at AIC. The fact that he’s able to change his style of play is a real comment on his dedication and level of play.”
Elms said Hadley is suited to it, despite his size.
AIC likes to get everybody, even the big guys, involved in carrying the ball. Hadley has always had good hands.
“He’d yank down balls behind him, above him,” Elms said. “You chuck the ball, and he’ll come down with it.”
When Hadley got to AIC, he had two weeks of two-a-days, starting at 6 a.m. It was a wake-up call.
By now, he’s used to the training regimen. It’s something he’ll pick back up when the spring season starts after Christmas break.
“We kind of have an ‘X’ on our back,” he said of being on such a strong, renowned team. “Everybody wants what we have. The good teams try harder (against us), and the bad teams are at their best.”