News: Tackling the All-Marine Rugby Team
Story by Christine Cabalo
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII - In a sport dominated by bulk, Cpl. Curtis Sprague is attempting to break through in rugby with a faster approach.
Sprague is among the few chosen for the All-Marine Rugby Training Camp, starting this week in San Diego. If selected, he will represent the Marine Corps during the Armed Forces Rugby Championship in Glendale, Colo. He’s been building his skills and muscles since he started playing in February 2008.
“You have the physicality of American football, with hitting each other,” said Sprague, a native of Frenchtown, Mont. and a data network technician with Headquarters Battalion. “But you have the endurance needed in soccer, and it never stops.”
At a height of 5’11 and weighing 165 pounds, Sprague’s fit, lithe physique isn’t like the traditional physical traits of a rugby player. Many current superstars of the game are brawny like Australia’s Alistar Baxter, who weighs 269 pounds and stands at 6’4.
Yet the Marine’s striking speed and endurance helps him consistently outperform others in a game.
“The first time you get in and start playing, you’re a little afraid with all these large individuals sprinting at you to tackle you,” he said. “But as soon as you get hit that first time, the adrenaline starts pumping and you feel good. It’s fun.”
Sprague discovered his talent for the sport when a family friend suggested playing in a neighborhood league. With plans to train solely for his senior high school year of cross-country running and long-distance track events, Sprague said he didn’t realize how much he would enjoy his first tackle at rugby.
“I had a promising track season and I pushed that all aside just to play,” he said. “After that first scrimmage, you’re hooked.”
Since then, the rugby player has strived to improve his kicking technique, strength and endurance. He’s played several games with 1st Sgt. Coleman Kinzer, first sergeant for Headquarters Company, 3rd Marine Regiment, and other rugby footballers at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
“He’s fast, he’s durable and he’s a great leader,” Kinzer said. “The game of rugby mirrors a lot of what we do in the Marine Corps. He’s a field general out there, he can keep up the strategy of game and convey it to his teammates.”
Besides drawing on his running skills, Sprague said he’s also used some techniques from his high school wrestling days to win. Relying on all of his physical skills to move past any gentleman’s tackle makes the game fun, Sprague said. His intense training has had made an impression with his fellow Marines when they hit the gym.
“The best thing he has going for him is he’s competitive, which drives him,” said Cpl. Ryan Tibbs, a cyber security technician from Headquarters Bn., who trains often with Sprague. “A lot people don’t have the drive that’s strong enough to push themselves past a limit. He makes everything a competition. It makes him work harder at the gym and when he’s running.”
Since being selected for the camp, Sprague said he’s even more committed to ratcheting up his game. He and Tibbs have pushed ahead in weight training, with Tibbs spotting for him as he lifts more than 200 pounds. But Sprague hasn’t neglected his running, continuing to build his speed and endurance.
Although Sprague generally plays rugby positions requiring fast and agile movement, he’ll be going into the training camp ready for anything.
“You have to be able to pretty much put your fear aside,” he said. “You’re going to have to get hit, you’re going have to hit somebody. Once you get into the game, it’s easy. If you slow down because you’re afraid of getting hit, then you’ll get hit even harder.”
Like in regular rugby games, the corporal said he’s relying on endurance and his willingness to tackle problems head on for the win.