The University of Oklahoma rugby team may be going through some tough times in D1-A, but new 7s coach Jon Velie is hoping to give them every reason to rebound as he looks ahead to the USA 7s Collegiate Rugby Championship June 2-3 at PPL Park just outside Philadelphia.
Velie, a three-time All American scrumhalf at Cal in the late 1980s coached Oklahoma in 15s before his work as an immigration attorney (Velie’s firm is a RUGBYMag.com sponsor) pulled him away. But he’s back coaching 7s and enthusiastic about it.
“I know there is some work to do, but when I come into this I know we have to be relevant, we have to compete,” he said. “This is a challenge, and an opportunity, and I knew we have some very good players and very good athletes to work with. Hopefully they can see 7s as part of how they can rebound from a difficult first part of the season and mentally recharge.”
Velie said he comes from the old school of 7s – one that preaches avoiding contact more than anything – and recognizes that the game has become somewhat more contact-intensive.
“But I think you can make the mistake of watching the IRB World Series and thinking everyone plays that way,” he said.”There is a middle ground between how the game has evolved and the basic fundamentals of the game. I am looking at developing a meld of the two approaches.”
Velie said he’s got some impressive speed among the 7s team candidates. Patrik Jones is a 15s prop, but a tall one who is mobile. Brad Henry has speed and so does Michael Al-Jiboori.
“We are looking at all types of athletes,” said Velie, who has worked on doing some crossover recruiting. “For the rugby-experienced guys, it’s tough to learn a new way of playing. But I think when you lose a few games the toughest part is mentally getting over that and realizing you can compete; you can win. I have no doubt we can do that.”