‘It’s all about the culture’ for the FIU men’s rugby club

Photo courtesy of Alyssa Woods | AKShotzPhotography.

Brandon Cosme | Contributing Writer 

Opposing sides interlock in a violent fight for dominance and possession. 

When seeing this, the first thought that would cross someone’s mind isn’t family. But in rugby, the scrum is a routine play that represents a lot more than it initially lets on. 

As the heat of the Florida sun beams down and the dirt from the field is kicked up, it’s an embrace between players who are members of a family, all determined to get back up when they fall down.

For the FIU men’s rugby club, rugby is far more than the game itself. It’s about buying into the mindset, the community and the culture.

Similar to American football, players must maintain possession of an oval-shaped ball to score a take in the goal areas then jostle for possession and attempt to tackle opposing scorers. 

With a long and storied history as both an amateur and professional sport, rugby continues to gain popularity both domestically and internationally. FIU men’s rugby club, founded in 1989, is a D1AA collegiate men’s rugby team participating in the South Independent Conference.

A noticeable feature of the club is its culture, demonstrated through its camaraderie and team rituals. One such ritual is if at any point a ball goes through a player’s legs, they must do burpees. 

As a closely-knit group, everyone on the team gets a nickname no matter how ridiculous. “The Cowboy Doctor” and “Choppa,” an anime reference, serve as prime examples. After every game, players attend socials at restaurants where the managers know their names. 

“It’s all about culture,” said senior Anthony Gonzalez, an experienced team member. “After a game in rugby, we do the ‘good game’ and we hang out with each other.” 

Gonzalez was recruited by the team after he asked a classmate if he wanted to study. Though currently injured, he remains involved in practices, helping veteran coach Ronnie Suarez keep things running smoothly on the field. 

Despite its violence and learning curve, getting involved is far from difficult. A prospective player will immediately be greeted by team personnel and players eager to share their experiences to help them get started and ease them into playing with the club.

New players are treated with the same respect as the more experienced members of the team and are held to a lot of the same expectations as current players. In particular, those participating in practice are expected to get their mindset right. 

“A lot of it is mindset. It’s alright when you get down,” noted Coach Suarez. “Be resilient because you can bounce back.”

Practices are rough at first, with experienced players struggling at times as the team goes through various drills before capping the night off with a nonstop scrimmage that leaves the whole team exhausted. 

Many new players will struggle early on, which is part of the game. What shines through is their resilience and how each player buys into the mindset of the team to learn from each other and improve.

“Mindset is the biggest factor,” said rugby club President Matthew Hinchey. 

“You can work on fitness, you can work on strength, it’s really hard to work on your mindset.” 

Hinchey himself never played rugby in his youth but picked up the sport after a friend sent an invite in a group chat. 

Hinchey’s mindset, which included working hard, staying consistent and engaging with the community, allowed him to learn and rise quickly. Now, he and the rest of the rugby club are looking to continue their hard work as a team in the fall for the 2023 Sevens season.

There is a strong sense of community between those involved with the club, including players currently on the team and past members, who come back often to square off against the current roster in the annual FIU rugby alumni game.

“We’ll get dinner and socialize with former players from the club. Then we play them in the alumni game the next day. You really feel that culture,” said Gonzalez. 

Students from all walks of life can find themselves on the rugby team. From international students to student-athletes, no experience is required so joining the club is easy. 

As the club grows and players change, one thing will remain certain: culture. 

FIU men’s rugby will continue to foster its culture and craft a community of players eager to grow, improve and emerge from the most demanding aspects of the sport.

Follow Brandon Cosme on X at @brandonjaymz01

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