With foundation set, Summit boys rugby plans to return next season

Jack Hodge, right, carries the ball during the Summit Tigers boys rugby game versus Regis Jesuit on May 8 at Cook Park in Denver.
Photo by Stefan de Vogel

Like standing atop Peak 8 in the Tenmile Range, Breckenridge Ski Resort snowboard instructor Lance French has seen the highest of highs in the sport of rugby. But it was a group of ragtag high school boys who left the national championship club coach on the verge of happy, proud tears Tuesday, June 15.

The naive yet intrepid collection of individuals coached by French, a former USA Rugby Men’s Eagles coach, lost all three matches they played this season. But the team’s maiden campaign was a late-spring sporting development in Summit County, and it spoke to one of the beauties of sports: the love of the game.

“I want to say ‘thank you’ to the boys,” French said. “I got a little emotional there, but it’s great coming back to the game. And I can’t tell you how much I regained a lot more love (of the game) because of those boys and the way they looked at me, the way they asked questions, the way they responded — it was a great feeling. I love every one of them.”

French zeroed in on the program’s achievement and opportunity Tuesday after the cancellation of the team’s final scheduled games: junior varsity Colorado Interscholastic Rugby Association action slated for Saturday, June 19, in Colorado Springs.

That opportunity is rooted in a solid core of nine players planning to return for next season, which French said he and the team are committed to.

“Yes, sir,” the coach said. “Everything is full on.”

The group returning next year will include fresh first-year talents who will be older and wiser, including hooker GC Martinez, flyhalf Sam Daly and center Jack Hodge, among others.

At the end of the season, the team also brought in a pair of football wide receivers and defensive backs in Caleb Walton and Malachi Ryan.

“It’s a great core that I can build around if you give me five more players — possibly 20 more,” French said with a laugh. “What these young men were able to accomplish and learn — my perspective is, it’s not the 0-3 record you want to look at. You have to look at the IQ, the love and passion these kids got for the game. That’s what it’s all about.”

French wants to make sure the achievement of Summit’s seniors isn’t forgotten, either. That includes the contributions of flanker Wylam Mocatta, MVP of the backs Phineas Smith and MVP of the forwards Kyler Bryant. But it’s Joey Hodge, the Tiger flanker who broke his ankle in the second game of the season, who French credits for serving as the heartbeat and soul of the revived program.

“I’ve never met a player who loves this game more than he does,” French said.

French feels Joey Hodge means so much to the program that at the team’s cookout — their version of an awards banquet — later this summer, he will be the recipient of the inaugural Joey Hodge award, meant to honor the player who represents a love for the game that moved the veteran coach this season.

“It exemplifies an unyielding love for rugby, so we are going to name it after him,” French said.

The Summit boys rugby team poses for a team photo May 27 in Louisville. Pictured back row from left are Forwards coach Joe Heddings, Lucas Salcedo, Ryan Perkins, Emmanuel Nogueda, Jack Hodge, Kevin Lopez, Kyler Bryant, Wylam Mocatta, head coach Lance French. Pictured front row from left are Phin Smith, GC Martinez, Sam Daly, Joey Hodge and Rex Alaeser.
Photo by Stefan de Vogel

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