RWU HQ – After a fortnight of anticipation, I am pleased to bring you our latest RWU Rugby Q&A, this one with USA Eagles fly-half/full-back Will Holder. Here it is:
Q: When did you first pick up rugby? Was it during your time at Palo Alto High School, and why?
A: I actually first picked up playing organized rugby in third grade in Golden, CO. My father was coaching the Air Force Academy Rugby Team at the time and wanted to teach my friends and I the game so we started playing full contact, barefoot sevens in the park behind my house in the summers.
Q: Being from California originally, why did you decide to go to U.S.M.A. West Point? What pulled you there?
A: I originally wanted to be a division 1 football player out of high school. When West Point came calling it was not only the best offer I was getting, but it was also where both of my parents attended. Growing up I also had always wanted to experience the military but had never really thought about how I would go about it. I think it was just God’s way of showing me where I needed to be.
Q: Do you envision a life in the military?
A: I know that what I am doing now is a dream come true. The Army has allowed me the opportunity to play in the Olympics if I make the team and we qualify. I am forever thankful to the Army for that. I have the next five years to serve Active Duty as do all West Point Graduates, and I am going to serve those years the best I can. I will then reevaluate when that time is up.
Q: What were some of the lasting memories from your collegiate rugby career?
A: I think some pretty big ones are beating Navy three years running. But I think the time with my brothers on the team is what will stay with me the most.
Q: How do you think you improved your game from the day you first stepped on the field at West Point and the day you left?
A: I think above all I became a leader on the field. Being at West Point, they drive leadership into you with a jackhammer. I became more comfortable leading men onto the field and directing a game. I also put on a ton of weight thanks to my buddies pushing me in the weight room and that always helps in contact.
Q: What were some of the things you did with your spare time at West Point?
A: One of the nice things about the Academy is that you meet people from all over the USA. Whatever college you wanted to visit, someone knows somebody with an extra couch. We traveled a lot and when we weren’t doing that, I was usually doing something with the boys on the team.
Q: What are your thoughts on how the program is going for men’s rugby at West Point? What role(s) are former players filling?
A: I think they are doing really well rebuilding the program right now. We made some poor decisions as a team last year and we paid the price for it. I could not be more proud of what the guys did this season having only played one semester. I want to specifically point out Coach Mahan, the two captains of the team, now 2LTs Jeff Ferebee and Aaron Bush, and all of our Officer Representatives. They brought the team back together stronger than ever and made the playoffs. I cannot wait to see what they do in the next couple of years.
Q: Is there any fitness drill that the people at USA Rugby have that was harder than anyone you did at West Point?
A: We work extremely hard at the OTC here in Chula Vista, CA., but I hated the hills of West Point. They always made us run up the biggest ones.
Q: What is your actual military position, rank etc.?
A: I am a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army and a proud Field Artilleryman.
Q: Do you feel an extra sense pride or pressure knowing that unlike most players you are not just representing your country but the brave men and women that vow to defend this great nation?
A: I feel a lot of pride that I have been selected to represent the amazing military we have here in the USA. It is something that pushes me in training so that I can represent in a way that will make them proud.
Q: How nervous were you in that first 15s cap against Canada because you didn’t look like your normal self, like you did when in college?
A: Well it is obviously a huge jump from going to American college rugby to an international test in about a month. I have always felt comfortable on offense and I thought I did decent in that aspect but my defense definitely let me down. If you make one bad decision or find yourself out of position on defense, the guys you are playing against are good enough to read that and exploit it much quicker than in the college game and I was not ready for that. It’s something that I have been trying to work on so that if I get another shot, I can make the most of it.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the World Class Athlete Program? How does it work? Do you like it?
A: WCAP is a program that takes soldiers and gives them the opportunity to train and qualify for the Olympic and Paralympic games. They are stationed in Ft. Carson, CO but have assigned me to Chula Vista, CA to train with the team here. We will then recruit and do work with the local communities for the Army. I love the program. We were just at a training conference at Ft. Carson and got to hear many of the stories of the men and women who have lost limbs in the Army, stayed in the service, and are now winning medals in the Paralympics. It was some powerful stuff and got me really excited about what I am a part of.
Q: Coach Hawkins and fans believe that the WCAP program will be a huge tool in the USA Rugby arsenal in 7s and 15s to help keep the programs competitive. Do you agree?
A: What WCAP gives to the Eagles program is depth and competition with little to no cost to the governing body. It is a win win situation for everyone involved.
Q: What were your thoughts as you trotted onto the pitch in Twickenham, representing the Red, White and Blue with the Eagles 7s?
A: I couldn’t really hear myself think with 75k people there but I remember being completely lost in the moment and in awe of how big it was.
Q:It was a disappointing year for the National 7s Team. What are some things that need to change?
A: I only got to be a part of one leg of the circuit this year but one thing was very apparent. When we listened to Coach Hawkins, no one could stop us. We even gave New Zealand a run for their money when we were playing Coach’s pattern. On the flipside, when we didn’t follow his pattern we started playing as individuals and we fell apart. This off-season we really need to buy in to what he is telling us to do because we have proven to ourselves that it works.
Q: What are the positives for next year?
A: I think now that we have one year under our belt with Coach Hawkins, we know exactly what is expected and we have a well planned preseason ahead of us to work on the execution portion.
Q: Does your fellow WCAP’er Nu’u Punimata out rank you? What were your thoughts on his promotional ceremony?
A: He does not actually outrank me. I was not around for his promotional ceremony but I read an article about it. I think it was awesome what they did for him. Becoming a Non-commissioned Officer in our Army is a huge deal and he deserved a ceremony. I am really excited to see what the future has in store for him not only as a rugby player, but as a soldier as well.
Q: Fly-half is a notoriously difficult position for second tier rugby nations to develop. Even countries like Scotland and Italy have trouble filling the position and often rely on imports. Presumably because it requires the greatest ‘feel’ for the game, which often takes years and years of playing to develop. Some may argue that only those who start rugby at an early age truly master the art of reading a game. That said, at what age did you start playing and what does you do to try to improve his rugby instincts?
A: I started playing in third grade so I have been around the game for a long time. I think instinct has a lot to do with every position on the field and not just flyhalf. I study a lot of film to become a better student of the game. Also, the more you play, the better your instincts get so I try to play as much as possible.
Q: Are you under contract for the 7s team? Have any overseas clubs reached out to you, yet?
A: We sign the same contract that the rest of the guys at the OTC do. I have not talked to any clubs overseas but I will not be able to play professionally until I leave the Army so I have not even thought about that yet.
Q: If someone handed you a check for $1,000,000.00 and said you had to choose between playing for Eagles 7s in the Olympics or Eagles 15s in the Rugby World Cup, which would it be and why?
A: I am working to try and do both. Would that get me $2,000,000.00?
Q: If you star in one movie, what genre would it be and who’d be your leading lady?
A: I’m going to have to go with Rom Com with Emma Stone.
Q: If you were trapped on an island and could bring any three items, what would they be?
A: My phone for sure. Then probably an M4 and a hammock to lay out on.
Q: If you could be any one for one day, who would it be and what would you do?
A: My dog! I would lay around and beg for belly rubs all day.
Q: Why do you continue to play rugby?
A: I keep playing because it is the ultimate team sport and the camaraderie that comes along with it is second to none. What other sport do you see someone get knocked out then later tweet at the guy who hit him and share a pint with him?
Q: Great answer. Thanks, Will.
A: Thank you.