Chula Vista, CA – USA Rugby held an open combine last January that introduced us to the names Mataiyasi Leuta and Ahmad Harajly. Another athlete to emerge from the successful venture is NCAA sprinter ConRoy Smith. Brand new to the sport when he tried out in front of Eagles coaches, and boasting a 10.45 second personal best in the 100 meters, ConRoy has quickly made his mark in rugby playing for NOVA and Atlantis 7s. He took some time out to chat with Nick Attewell and tell us more about his story.
Nick Attewell: Congrats on being invited to the national sevens assembly, ConRoy! Let’s talk a little bit about your background – which sports did you play growing up and how long have you been involved in rugby?
ConRoy Smith: I grew up in a small town in south central Pennsylvania called Chambersburg. My main sport was football then track and I played basketball on the side as well. Nearing the end of my senior season of football I chose to pursue track in college, at Liberty University.
I’ve only been involved with rugby for about 8 months. I came out to the Olympic training center in Chula Vista last January, where I had my first rugby experience at the USA Rugby open combine. I started playing 15s with NOVA in March, then 7s this summer with NOVA as well, then finally Atlantis.
NA: The obvious comparison people will make is between yourself and Carlin Isles, both being guys with some very fast track times who had a quick rise in rugby once they picked it up. How much did you know about Carlin’s story when you chose to pursue rugby? Did he influence you in any way?
CS: Absolutely! I first saw a highlight of Carlin back in October and thought it was really cool how a track/football guy started ripping it up on the rugby pitch! I Facebook messaged a high school track teammate of mine, Hope Rogers, who is on the Penn State and USA women’s 15s teams, and she told me that she thought I would be pretty good at rugby. I was still training for an upcoming track meet at the time so I didn’t really think much of it. After I ran an indoor meet back at Liberty in December, I started seeing more and more highlights of Carlin and got more interested in him and the sport.
NA: Your name seemed to come onto the radar after playing for Atlantis at the RugbyTown 7s. Did the USA coaches approach you based on your performances in there or had you heard from them prior to that? Did hearing from them come as a surprise?
CS: The USA coaches first met me at the January combine. However I thought they maybe forgot and didn’t really think twice about me because of their depth at wing. I didn’t really hear anything after RugbyTown 7s nor did I expect to because I thought I could’ve played better. It wasn’t until the final day of Elite City 7s that Alex Magleby approached me about coming out and training with the team this week. It did kind of hit me by surprise, especially with how fast the turnaround was!
NA: You’ve had some time to train around the best sevens talent in the country now. What areas of your game are you most focused on improving and do you think you’re ready to make the step up to the international level yet?
CS: I think I still need to work on my passing, tackling, and just understanding of the game of rugby to where it becomes second nature like other sports I’ve played in the past. Despite some weaknesses I do think I would be ready to play international rugby because I definitely work hard and learn quickly so I think it’s only a matter of time before I’m up to speed and ready for the rugby world.
NA: As mentioned, the US has found increasing success with crossover athletes, especially quick wingers like Isles and Perry Baker. Do you see your game as being similar to theirs or are there different attributes that you bring?
CS: Yeah, I think I play very similar to those guys in the sense that we play to our main strength, speed. I’ve watched and studied these guys so much that I try to be the combination of the two, bringing size, speed and a defensive presence to the game.
NA: What are your goals as a player for the upcoming season? How big a target is making the Olympic squad?
CS: My goal is to make the player pool for this upcoming Sevens Series as well as the Olympic pool. Ever since I watched my first Olympics in ’08, watching Usain Bolt dominate, it has been my dream to represent my country at the Olympics or to train an athlete who made the Olympics. So it would be a dream come true to make the Olympic squad to say the least!
NA: Any plans to pursue high level 15s in the future or do you see yourself as a 7s specialist?
CS: Ha, I’ve been thinking about this question for a while now but I’m kind of going with the flow and seeing where the Lord leads me. I enjoy 7s a lot more than 15s mainly because I feel like I’m built for 7s and it’s an Olympic sport. However 15s helps me understand rugby as a whole better, so we’ll see.
NA: Okay, last question. Who’s the fourth member of a USA 7s 4×100 relay team – Carlin Isles, Perry Baker, ConRoy Smith and… ?
CS: After I took a picture with Carlin and Perry I started thinking the same thing and I’m not 100% sure, but from watching the Sevens Series and practicing with the guys, I would say maybe Maka Unufe. However, don’t sleep on USA women’s 7s star Kathryn Johnson! Carlin and I were working on her running form yesterday!
NA: Thanks for taking time during camp to answer these questions ConRoy. Good luck in the upcoming season!
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