Among the rivalries and matchups at the USA 7s CRC, there are also meetings of good friends.
Some of those athletes have solid rugby histories behind them before they got to college, and one such group is a trio of athlete who found rugby and football glory at Xavier HS.
Seamus Kelly is now a leader for the Cal 7s team and entering his third tournament, but before that he was helping Xavier to a 3rd place in the nation finish.
He was teammates with Jimmy Kowalski, now a key part of the Delaware team, and Mike Erickson, now No. 8 at Penn State.
Kowalski went on to win a national title with Xavier in 2010, while Erickson is now a college senior. They are all very different players. Erickson is power and strength. Kelly is not tall, and bull-strong and aggressive. Kowalski is, his former coach says, Greenwich Village’s answer to Shane Williams.
The three players were part of the Xavier football backfield that emulated the 1940s single-win offense – direct snaps to one of three running backs. It was an offense put in because of the rugby success of the Xavier students.
“These three perfected it,” said Xavier coach Joe Sweeney of the offense.
Kelly rushed for 1169 yards and 18 touchdowns in the fall of 2007, and then in his senior season, covered 2677 yards and scored 47 touchdowns (almost 4 a game). Kowalski ran for 1029 years in 2007 (and recorded 557 more on passes, punt and kick returns).
Erickson was the fullback, and ran for 489 yards. The team won a City Championship, coming back from a 27-14 deficit with ten minutes to go to win 45-33. In the last quarter, Kowalski scored two touchdowns of over 50 yards, Kelly scored one, and Erickson made the game-clinching interception at linebacker.
All three started on offense and defense and football coach Chris Stevens credited that 31-point comeback, in part, to the fitness they earned in rugby.
“Jimmy, Seamus, and Mike could possibly have played college football,” said Sweeney, “but they're all undersized and no one gave them a serious look (except for Seamus, who got good looks from DII teams but chose Cal instead). All three choose rugby in college in the end and all three have had great collegiate careers.”