With the Golden Bears back on campus for the 2012-13 academic year, three esteemed California alumni – Chris Biller, Mike MacDonald and Blaine Scully – are also back on campus, hard at work honing their craft with Cal’s world-class resources as they strive to return to upcoming assemblies for the U.S. National 15s and 7s Teams.
The youngest of the three and newest to the national teams, Scully is in his 22nd week of rehabilitative training in the Simpson Center for Student-Athlete High Performance’s 164,000 square feet of applied sports science under the guidance of Cal staff.
MacDonald, who holds the U.S. record for most career appearances with the national 15s team, has also made the Berkeley campus his post-operative training headquarters in preparation for upcoming autumn assemblies, and he is joined by Chris Biller, another recent U.K. professional and front-row incumbent for the USA Eagles who is back in the Bay Area after appearances last season in England’s Premiership.
These former players, all of whom have been captains, All-Americans and national champions in blue and gold, have each followed a different regimen of training this summer at Cal, following conditioning programs charted in large part by coach Tom Billups, who, like head coach Jack Clark, is a former U.S. international player and head coach.
Billups, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, has been joined by physical therapist Kristy Illg to enact specific training programs that address the unique needs and challenges faced by these former Cal standouts.
“The training programs have been distinct in numerous ways,” said coach Billups. “Blaine, Chris and Mike are in three different places in their careers. They do have one thing in common, and that’s their continued pursuit of excellence on the world rugby stage.”
Scully, after “five months of grinding,” as he called the process since he arrived following surgery on his Achilles, has begun to take on more full body movements in his return to form, having recently begun jogging on the AlterG, an anti-gravity treadmill, as well as the underwater treadmill at the Simpson Center.
“You don’t get to big victories without the small stuff,” Scully said of his incremental progress. He credited the Cal environment for his successful recovery, saying, “My time here has been so important to me and I don’t know how else I would have done it.”
Although he has not spent the past five consecutive months on campus, Chris Biller has been a frequent participant in workouts prescribed by Billups since his final Cal season in 2009, and he acknowledged Billups’s unselfish devotion to current and former players.
“I had torn my pectoral muscle before my final year and when it was time to get back into it, I was out of shape and my arm had atrophied,” Biller recalled. “I told coach Billups I needed his help. And he didn’t just tell me what I had to do, which was to run, but he ran with me, all summer. It was selfless of him and so encouraging that he was with me.”
Biller also praised the leap forward in high-performance sports science that has come with the Simpson Center, which opened last year. “The new facilities are great for specific targeting,” he said. “It literally has everything you could possibly imagine in a convenient and efficient setting.”
“For Chris, it has been more of a preparatory routine after some solid performances this summer,” Billups explained. “We are balancing his needs to earn a living and pursue international opportunities as a domestic player with trackable fitness metrics, accessing best practices of strength and conditioning methodologies.”
The third former Bear in the current mix of national teamers on campus, Mike MacDonald has a U.S. record 67 international appearances in his career, including a record 12 matches for the Eagles in the quadrennial Rugby World Cup.
Since undergoing surgery earlier this summer for his torn shoulder labrum, “Big Mac,” as he is called, said, “It's been great to have the resources and expertise at a world-class facility here at our old home on campus.”
Billups explained that, in MacDonald’s case, “It's about the quality of the movement and quality of the effort that's critical at this point in his career. It's not about the volume of the work for a veteran athlete versus a young player. Mac’s been in a lot of scrums.”
He added: “It's always very gratifying to work with guys that are focused on improving, whether it's the most-capped player in U.S. international history or a guy that's looking to capitalize on a great 2011.”
Everyone associated with Cal and every fan of U.S. rugby wishes Biller, MacDonald and Scully success as they prepare for their return to competition.
The Bears are set to enter their 131st year with a fall slate of 7s action followed by spring 15s.
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