Rugby Team On Collision Course To VictoryJune 25, 2002
They leave games bloodied and bruised, but unlike their more-heralded "cousins" who play football, Baylor's rugby team members don't get a lot of media coverage -- even when they win a national championship.
Last year, the 25-member team defeated Arkansas State 29-16 to claim the USA Rugby Men's Collegiate Division II national championship.
Baylor enjoyed another stellar season this year despite moving up to the more-competitive Division I. The team finished second in the Texas Rugby Union, reaching the Western Rugby Union playoffs before losing to the Air Force Academy.
"Moving up to Division I was like a 2-A high school going up to 5-A," says team member Bryan Bleibdrey, a Fort Worth, Texas, senior. "Nobody gave us much of a chance of making the playoffs."
Baylor is the smallest Division I school in Texas and the only private one, competing against schools that have enrollments of up to 50,000.
"We're always the underdogs, but we enjoy seeing how many schools we can upset," Bleibdrey says.
Rugby has been described as a cross between American football and soccer. As with football, teams score points by crossing the goal line and kicking the ball through uprights. Like soccer, players wear no pads, despite the game's frequent and spirited contact.
"Collisions are the name of the game," Bleibdrey says. "You have the continuous play of soccer with the mentality of football."
Baylor's team is a mixed bag of veterans and walk-ons. "We have some who have played a few years and some who are just beginning. We even have some players from the band," Bleibdrey says.
"You could say that everyone is the proverbial walk-on," says the team's coach, Dr. John Blakeman, assistant professor of political science, who learned the game while doing graduate studies in London. "About half of our players played high school football, but about half did not. We work hard to teach them the sport, and the success speaks for itself."
It's a formula that works. "We don't have any one guy who's the focus," Bleibdrey says. "We have team players, and that works well for us. You have to be willing to throw your body around and sacrifice it for the team. That's what has made us so successful."
Word is getting out about Baylor rugby. "Our sport is gaining popularity," Bleibdrey says. "It used to be not much more than a social event, but now we're highly driven for success and focused on our goals."