Deadbirds Alive & Kicking Way To National Title: Need Your Help!

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The University of North Florida Rugby Club, affectionately known as The Deadbirds, has advanced to the Collegiate National Championship in Glendale, CO to be held on April 28th & 29th. Matches are slated to be aired on national TV through Fox Soccer Plus. Rugby Wrap Up’s Don Shanahy, caught up with former UNFRFC Deadbird and current head coach Rich Alleger, to talk undefeated seasons, lazy rivers, and sweat-tea.

Help support these young men in their bid for a National Title: UNF Rugby National Championship Support

SHANAHY: I understand UNFRFC has its own song… I need two quotes from you. First, your favorite line from that song:
ALLEGER: The first line “We’re North Florida Rugby”; such a uniting and powerful line that incites so much emotion from those lucky enough to sing it.

SHANAHY: Next, the Whitney Houston lyric that best describes your coaching philosophy?
ALLEGER: As a boy that grew up in eastern PA, I do not know any Whitney Houston. I can, however, offer up a little quote from a man known simply as The Boss: “I get up every morning, I go to work each day”

SHANAHY: How long have you been coaching?
ALLEGER:I began coaching the club in August of 2011.

Fullback Cade Pollard & Coach Alleger; Eat your heart out YMCA senior citizens...

SHANAHY: What is your record?
ALLEGER: UNF is 10-0 in regular season and playoff games.

SHANAHY: Division III gets a bum rap from critics of rugby quality yet you have been able to recruit some talented high school players. Who are they, which U19 program did they come from?
ALLEGER: I was fortunate to step into a club that already had quite a few high school players. A few notable names include Hk/PR Steven Hill – Brevard High School; SH/FB Steven Krueger, SH/WG/FB Ben Waddington, C Roger Amidon – Jupiter Rugby Club; Trevor Cheatham, Guam High School Rugby; FH Trace Horevitz – Taravella Rugby Club (formerly Northeast Nomads RFC).

SHANAHY: The University of North Florida official mascot is the Osprey. How did the rugby club come to be known as the Deadbirds?
ALLEGER: During the clubs formative years the players felt that this moniker fit the rag tag group of young men who would show up to play rugby at practice or a match above all else; many times with a lack of clean clothes, matching socks and personal hygiene.

SHANAHY: Let’s disprove big dumb and ugly as a rugby stereotype: How tall are you?
ALLEGER: 5’10”
SHANAHY: Thanks, What’s 10 x 5 +17 x 0?
ALLEGER: Tough, I was very excited to the equation start off with a 10 because I can multiply by tens very easily but then when I arrived at the zero I realized all my calculations were for naught as the answer is simply 0. I hope.
SHANAHY: Correct answer is 50 actually, but don’t worry you are doing great on the verbal part of the test. Lastly, have you ever called handsome by a senior citizen, (male or female)?
ALLEGER: I work for the YMCA, I get called handsome by senior citizen on a daily basis.

Stink & Drink or Float & Gloat... you decide.

SHANAHY: I understand UNF now has a lazy river and a skate park. Does the lazy river serve as a de facto post game shower/post match float recovery?

ALLEGER: We do have a skate park that is free for students so the coaches do try to steer the players more towards the lazy river as our players would better serve the club and themselves by floating in a river than trying to launch 200 –plus-pounds into the air.

Alleger: Hungry for it

SHANAHY: Jacksonville is home to the longstanding Jacksonville Men’s Rugby Union team who reached the DII Elite Eight in recent years and the Jacksonville Axemen a semi-pro Rugby League team that has a national title under its belt and made some headlines hosting Russell Crowe’s Rugby League Team and the USA Tomahawks. Both clubs play in different seasons of the year, offering year-round rugby to Jacksonville ruggers. That’s a lot of rugby for a city that is the second smallest market in the NFL. How have these two clubs helped to shape UNF Rugby? Do you have any players that currently train/play with the Axemen in the summer?

ALLEGER: These two clubs have been great partners for UNF. In the beginning the Jax men’s club helped establish the UNF club and gave them their first coaches, practices and jerseys. Since that time many UNF alumni, myself included, have gone on to play for the men’s club. A few that were part of that elite eight run were William Fletcher, Marc Hanke, Nick Herweg and Joshua Jackson. During my tenure at UNF many upperclassmen chose to stay in Jacksonville over the summer to try their hand at rugby league, many of which turned out to be pretty good. Apple Pope is currently the captain of the Tomahawks and his brother Taco also has a few caps under his belt. Former UNF alumni and Axemen player Marc Hanke has also represented the Canadian National Rugby League Team.

Current UNF players/coaches with the Axemen: Head Coach Rich Alleger – halfback; Backline Coach Joshua Longenecker –center; Captain Tim Herff – 2nd Row; Taylor Alley – center; Dennis Yarizadeh – hooker; Steven Hill – prop.

SHANAHY: You are from Pennsylvania but have chosen to stay in North Florida. After all of these years in the south how do you feel about sweet tea?
ALLEGER: Sweet Tea has nothing on Turkey Hill ICED Tea.

SHANAHY: What has been the most memorable moment on your road to the National Championship?
ALLEGER: Seeing the family that has been built around this rugby club. To see the outpouring of support from former players, whether it was season 1 or 7; former and current parents as well as former students who just enjoyed the atmosphere of the club and sport.

SHANAHY: In five words or less describe your team right now.
ALLEGER: Amped and focused

SHANAHY: What would like to you say to your players who are reading this article?
ALLEGER: That I am fiercely proud of the effort they have put into each other and this club for the past 9 months. I have watched each one of them grow by leaps and bounds as a player and a person and they deserve to be exactly where they are.

SHANAHY: Anything else that you care to shout from the rooftops of the internet?
ALLEGER: Thank you for covering the greatest sport in the world and giving the next generation of American rugby players the opportunities many of us never dreamed of having.

Help support these young men in their bid for a National Title: UNF Rugby National Championship Support

For more information on UNF Rugby and the university visit: North Florida Rugby