The rugby teams in the national semifinals all have something in common and Rugby Rugby's Tom Billups looks at three of the coaches and their pedigree.
By Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
Two were members of an exceptional 2001 All American team, the other, a distinguished football player who made up for his lack of rugby experience with elite athleticism. Who are they? They are Kimball Kjar (BYU), Matt Huckaby (Arkansas State) and Blake Burdette (Utah). They are coaches of their alma maters in the national collegiate semi-finals.
Kimball Kjar as a rugby player was a fierce competitor. His play for BYU earned him representative honors in 2001 where he was a member of the 2001 All America team that toured Ireland. He used this intense personal drive to finely hone his skills to become one of the best scrumhalves in America in the early 2000’s. As much a gentleman off the field as he was relentless on it, Kimball has been a key component of David Smyth’s BYU coaching staff for several years, bringing valuable insight and experience to the Cougars.
Matt Huckaby burst onto the national domestic scene with a series of scorching performances for the South at the collegiate all–star championships in 2001. He was easy to spot in a sea of players during his breakout weekend because he played harder and faster than the other twenty-nine players on the field. Matt went on to represent the United States as a member of the national sevens team before turning his attention to the program his father had done so much for since 1996.
Blake Burdette was a special athlete. If you were a follower of successful cross over athletes like Dan Lyle and David Hodges, you could quickly see how Blake was on his way to becoming a member of that group of players. Big, strong, and fast with nimble feet, Blake played for Urban Meyer’s Utah football team during the season the Ute’s performance propelled Meyer to the upper echelons of college football coaches. Blake was a 2005 All American and member of the 2005 Churchill Cup national team squad.
As things turned out, these were my only opportunities to directly coach Blake, but both assemblies convinced me that he was going to be something special.
All three are now contributing back to their universities, Blake and Matt as head coaches and Kimball as backs/defensive coach. If their paths to becoming coaches were anything like mine, each probably began to think about becoming a coach long before they ran their first team training session. Because I was lucky enough to coach them, I know first hand what students of the game they are. Notebooks were filled and kept as they started creating their coaching philosophy and how they wanted to teach the game of rugby. As a majority of coaches would attest, we coaches are a composite of our experiences as competitors. I have previously written in this column (April 9th, 2009) about the most significant coaching influences in my life, and I hope to have paid something forward to these three really genuine men. I could not be more proud of one and all.
It is extremely encouraging for domestic rugby that these three have successfully transitioned from playing to coaching. Rugby will flourish with men like these in team leadership roles.
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