By Rob LeDonne
Alec Mills was in eighth grade when he first discovered the sport of rugby, and it was almost by happenstance. “I was playing Pop Warner football at the time,” Mills said. “Our coach recommended we go to a rugby clinic, so I went and picked it up from there.”
Since that clinic, Mills has devoted his life to the sport and has the results to show for it. Currently a senior at Torrey Pines High School, he just wrapped up his time with the school’s team. In Mills’ humble words, the season “went pretty well. We won the Southern California Championships.” Mills credits his team’s championship to one simple concept: longevity. “Most of us on the team have been playing for four years, which is more than other teams. Many others are first-year players; in terms of how we play the game, that’s why we beat our opponents.”
Earlier this month, the team’s last game of the season (and Mills’ last game of his Torrey Pines career) was an intense one against Torrey Pines’ biggest rival: the guys from Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif.
“It was emotional because that team has been our chief rival for the past four years,” explained Mills. “Last year they killed us in finals, but this time we beat them — and it was all the more awesome since it was our last game.”
Dating back to his first season with Torrey Pines as a freshmen, Mills realized rugby was his sport.
“The first season I started playing, I knew it’d be something I’d stick with. It’s unlike most other sports, everyone gets to play. There’s no special positions,” he explains. With only two practices a week, the training that comes with playing rugby doesn’t sound strenuous, but it’s actually quite brutal.
Said Mills: “On Monday, we’d have a conditioning practice with a former Green Beret. Almost all of the players lift weights and run outside of practice. You need to be in shape to be good at it.”
Despite the thrill of playing for Torrey Pines, Mills says high school rugby works as more of a precursor to club season; Mills currently plays for the Mustangs, which is a part of the San Diego Youth Rugby Club.
“The Torrey Pines season is about getting new players into the game. We introduce them to the form with high school rugby. Then, when high school playing ends, we go into club season,” explained Mills.
Mills’ club team is currently number three in the nation, and it’s a reputation the team would like to uphold.
“It’s all about trying to win Southern California, then the nationals,” Mills says of his team’s goals for the season. “Last year we finished fifth, but we’re hoping to do much better this year.”
Mills and his teammates give full credit to the Mustang’s team of coaches, including Maddy Sandoval, Bill “Chief” Leversee and David Poole, among others.
“These coaches take the time to teach us the values and strategy of the game and emphasize teamwork and sportsmanship above everything else,” Mills said. “It’s a bonus that we are a winning team as well!”
Once club season wraps up and Mills graduates high school, he isn’t sure where life is going to take him next; he’s currently in the midst of waiting on word of acceptance into the prestigious US Naval Academy after receiving a nomination from California Congressman Scott Peters.
“My cousin and grandfather both served, and my parents are foreign service officers for the State Department,” notes Mills. “The Naval Academy also has a great rugby team, so it seems like a good fit. We’ll see.”
For now, Mills is focusing on growing his expertise in rugby even more and he is trying to avoid any injuries.
“There are a lot more knocks and bruises in rugby than football, but the injuries aren’t so bad. Throughout everything, my parents have both been completely supportive,” said Mills who added: “Although my mother wasn’t too happy when I broke my nose.”
For more information on the San Diego Youth Rugby Club, visit: http://www.sandiegoyouthrugby.org