Strong team culture fosters love for the sport, success for Summit boys rugby team

Summit boys rugby team captains Sam Daly, from left, Jack Hodge and GC Martinez pose for a photo ahead of the team’s first match on Saturday, March 26.
Stefan de Vogel/Courtesy photo

Summit Tigers boys rugby team head coach Lance French has been blown away by the progress of his team over the past year.

Just last season, the team lost every match. This year, it is sporting a 5-2 record as the players head into the final weekend of matches on Saturday, May 7. There have been times after games when French has been so overwhelmed by the success of his team that he has grown emotional recounting the events of the match.

French has spoken openly about how last season was a year where the team needed to build a foundation in order to have success this spring. The team found that success. French said they have exceeded his preseason expectations, which he accounts to the bonds built across the team.

Team captains GC Martinez and Jack Hodge led the way in establishing that team culture, French says. They shared their experience with other members of the team to help them learn by past mistakes.

Martinez and Hodge have been a part of the team over the last few years. Co-captain Sam Daly helped develop the team into what it is today.

Currently juniors at Summit High School, both Martinez and Hodge were members of the Summit football team before deciding to ditch the pads and helmets to play rugby as well.

Hodge has been on the team since his freshman year of high school and said the success of the team this season has been developing over the years.

“Even since my freshman year, before (French) came aboard, we were struggling with players,” Hodge said, adding that sometimes the team didn’t even have enough players to play sevens, a game variation where seven players play on each side when a team can’t play with 15 players per side, also called 15s. “It’s been a progression of a lot of hard work culminating into this season, where we have been able to win some games and play full 15s.”

The team’s path has been full of mostly valleys and has not been easy. Many players, including Hodge and Martinez, wondered if the program would ever see success.

Leading up to this season this past fall and winter, Hodge and Martinez put in several hours of off-pitch recruiting to ensure the team was filled with new members so it could field an entire 15-man roster along with reserves.

“Jack and I spent months trying to recruit so many people, and we got so many nos but it just took those few yeses to start the program up,” Martinez said. “That meant a lot to me as a captain.”

Martinez and Hodge recruited other fellow football athletes, soccer players and their close friends.

It may have taken awhile for the new additions to the Summit boys rugby team to establish chemistry, but by the second weekend of matches, the team was communicating and playing together like never before.

Rugby is a unique sport where it is essential that all 15 players are on the same page. Unlike other sports, one player can’t push the team to a lead or a win. Instead, in rugby, it is an entire team effort.

The Summit boys rugby team poses for a team photo prior to the team’s first game on Saturday, March 26, against Castle Rock. Pictured in the front row are Ronald Wray, left to right, Jared Marcer, Christian Skowron, GC Martinez, Same Daly, Jack Hodge, Silas Tharp and Evan Sturges. Pictured in the back row are Finn Norris, left to right, Jake Boyle, John Weldon, Jonah Martinez, Max Sanchez, Kevin Reddell, Ryan Perkins, Caleb Artherholt, Kevin Lopez and Barrett Ernst.
Stefan de Vogel/Courtesy photo

In perhaps the Tigers’ best weekend of matches this season, they displayed their ability to play well with one another. They defeated Dakota, 49-0, and then defeated Fort Collins-Brighton, 29-12, later on in the day.

Beyond the five wins this season, Hodge and Martinez feel like they have gained lifelong memories by being a part of the Summit rugby team.

Hodge enjoys the time he has been able to spend in practice and in matches “banging heads” with his teammates, while Martinez feels like the community that rugby fosters is what makes the sport so special.

“I enjoy the community,” Martinez said. “In other sports, you go against other teams and are bitter rivals until the end. In rugby you beat them to the ground or they beat you to the ground, and you are still friendly.”

Martinez says after almost every match, the team often walks around or gets lunch with players from the opposing team.

The expertise that French brought when he took over the program two years ago was a huge part of the team’s success, Martinez and Hodge emphasized.

Hodge feels like he is still learning and advancing on a daily basis even though he has been playing longer than most players on the team.

“If the coach is not taking it seriously, it is not fun, but coach (French) has put a lot of effort in to where we are right now,” Martinez said.

French’s impact on Hodge and Martinez has both debating the idea of playing for a collegiate rugby program once they both graduate from Summit High School in 2023.

Both Hodge and Martinez encourage anyone who may be thinking about playing rugby to just do it.

“It’s so much easier after your first 15 minutes,” Hodge said. “Those first 15 minutes, you are scared as can be because there are no pads and there is a lot of contact, but once you get past those little nerves, it’s so much fun.”

The Summit boys rugby team will conclude its season on Saturday, May 7, at Aurora Sports Park, where the team will face Castle Rock at 12:30 p.m. and North High School at 1:30 p.m.

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