The man has to be getting too old for this.
Somehow, though, Jason Raven keeps showing up and getting the job done. At 41 on the 16th of this month, the former USA 7s team captain will participate for OMBAC in the 7s Club Championships, and this, he says, is his last one.
|What’s next for Jason Raven?|
Raven has been coaching the Cathedral HS team in Southern California, and says he is enjoying that a great deal.
"We have an amazing staff and the greatest kids coming back after a great season."
He will also have some other coaching work to do.
"I will also be working on 7s-specific camps across the US, and will be working with USA Rugby's Mollie McCarthy, Mike Hodgins and small group of amazing coaches from across the United States to help develop 7s coaches."
“I think this is it,” he told RUGBYMag.com. “You’ll still see me in Aspen and Bermuda with 35-and-over teams, but, yeah, this is it. I am getting heavily into coaching, and I think it’s time.”
In a sport when that time is usually around 30, Raven has bucked the odds more than once. The black guy with the surfer dude inflection, who played back when not many African Americans were playing rugby, and stuck around, winning, well after his body was supposed to break down, Raven’s career has been remarkable.
"I always had to explain that my mothers heritage was that of Lebanese and Peruvian. My father is African American and Native American. In short I am an American and at that, one of the fastest!"
Raven made his debut for the USA in April, 1997 at the Japan 7s. He played for the Eagles in two 7s World Cups, three Hong Kong 7s, and 9 seasons in the IRB World Series.
He was captain of the USA 7s team, leading them to a Plate Championship in Hong Kong in 2001, and a famous upset of Fiji and England that same year in Wellington, NZ. (Amusingly enough, his final game for the USA team was in the World Games in 2005, when he was sent off on what he dubs “a bogus call” that was later overturned.)
“We had an amazing coach, staff, and players,” explained Raven. “We were fit beyond belief and it just so happened that we worked extremely well together.”
Add in six trips to the national club finals, and six trips to the national all-star championships, and you’ve got a career to be proud of.
This writer spoke to Raven first some years ago, in the late 1990s, when writing an article about bringing African-American athletes to the sport. Raven showed himself then, as always, to be affable, smart, and eminently quotable. He joked about clubs always assuming he was incredibly fast because he is black.
"Well, aren't you really fast?" I asked.
"Well, yeah, I am."
An excellent scrumhalf who often had to fight being shoved on the wing, Raven always seemed willing to play, and play at a high level. He was a big part of the Back Bay side that made the final of the DI national championships in 2005, and followed that up with a superb campaign in 2006 with OMBAC winning a Super League Championship and 7s Championship in the same year.
In 2010, this writer got to work with Raven at the club 7s championships. OMBAC hadn’t qualified, so Raven and I worked the webcast play-by-play. Eventually we roped the injured Jone Naqica into the job, allowing me to work with two former USA 7s team captains. That was a huge honor.
Raven as an announcer was smooth, calm, and mellow, which was funny because the rest of the time he was an unstoppable bundle of energy. Jumping up and down at amazing plays, laughing with old friends, he never stayed still. Maybe that’s how he has done it all these years – mentally mellow and physically always working.
“I played a lot of sports,” Raven told RUGBYMag.com this time around. “I came from a track background, and that’s where I learned to develop my speed and endurance. And then my other sport was wrestling, because there I learned how to handle myself in contact. But I also played soccer and football and basketball, which all bring something to rugby. But I think the sport I did that really had an impact was gymnastics. That did so much to help me with my balance, and my overall strength. I think it’s so important to keep playing other sports and to learn from them. I always tried to bring what I learned in those sports to playing sevens.”
But maybe it wasn't always sports that kept him fit.
"The most fit i have ever been was after a season of firefighting for the US Forest Service," he explains. "I was on a hot shot crew called the horseshoe meadow hot shots."
At the time he ran a mile in 4:12, and four miles in 22 minutes.
"I trained every day on the track and in the gym with my multiple sport background training," he said. "I was a man on a mission. I would not stop until I made the US national sevens team."
That life of playing sports helped Raven stay in superb condition throughout his career. But there was also a lot of discipline – a funny word to use for a guy who can’t keep still.
“When I was training I’d be eating about 4,200 calories a day sometimes,” he said. “But I was always conscious of it. Like when I was injured or I wasn’t training, I cut that way back, to, like, half. That way, I never had to worry about working my way back into shape, or having to lose weight to play.”
A good lesson for younger players, and something you hope Raven is able to impart to the youngsters on the OMBAC team – some young enough to be his children (sorry for that Jason).
We have an amazing team,” said Raven, who is also helping coach the OMBAC 7s squad. “We’ve got a lot of veterans and some great young kids too. I am really enjoying working with them.”
He always enjoys it, and in fact that’s been Raven’s story throughout his career.
“I remember right before Wellington in 2001 when we went in there and beat Fiji and England,” he said. “I sat down for a meeting with [Coach] John McKittrick and [team manager] Scott Compton. They asked me, ‘what do you do or need to get motivated before a game?’ I told them, “when I wake up and you tell me we have a tournament this weekend, then I am motivated. Knowing we’ve got a game this weekend is what motivates me. Knowing I am going to play with that USA jersey on; that’s all I need.’
“You don’t need the coach to motivate you. If you need that, you’re in the wrong business. What always has motivated me is, knowing we playing this weekend?”
For one more time, we are.