When one door seemingly closed to 2008 Greenbrier High School graduate Derick Howard, he went ahead and created a whole new door for himself.
Now, the exercise physiology major who expects to graduate from Valdosta State University in December, can add rugby club founder, president and coach to his growing list of accomplishments.
An outside linebacker at Greenbrier, Howard went to the Division II Blazers football team as a preferred walk-on.
“They have a JV program, like a walk-on program, and I played that for a year and wasn’t getting any decent looks at playing time, so I decided to do something else,” said Howard.
In the summer of 2010 Howard came home and was enlisted to play for the Augusta Rugby Club by one of his old high school friends. He caught the bug and took it back to Valdosta.
“I enjoyed it so much I figured, well, I can start a team down here,” said Howard, who picked up the nickname “Chuck Norris” while playing for Augusta. “I had a lot of buddies who used to play Valdosta football with me on that walk-on team, and I figured we could start playing rugby together.”
The team is more established now, heading into its third spring season, but it wasn’t quite so easy at the beginning creating a non-varsity sport.
“Our practices started out not even on the real recreation field, we were out on the front lawn of the campus and we only had about five people coming,” said Howard, who is a flanker on the 15-man team.
Members brought friends each week and the team filled out. Helping match up with older teams that might hit harder in the fast and physical sport, Howard has his own strategy for attracting players.
“We recruit a lot of big people that we find on campus, so that helps,” Howard said.
Some things are still difficult for club rugby teams, and not just for smaller schools like Valdosta, as referees can pick and choose what games they want to officiate.
“We were supposed to play Auburn in the fall but there were no referees, so the game was cancelled,” Howard said. “They’ve had some of the same referee problems we’ve had.”
The Blazers play in the Georgia Rugby Union, and after previously playing in the collegiate division, the Blazers will compete in the men’s division in the spring.
“I would love to make the playoffs this season,” said Howard. “We’ve had good records, but we haven’t made the playoffs yet.”
With graduation approaching, Howard is taking steps to ensure the team remains when he departs.
“I’m actually in the process of making sure that happens,” Howard said. “We’ve got to put some younger guys in place in leadership positions. If that happens, like I think it can, it’ll be good.”