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Interview With Cal Rugby Alum: Louis Stanfill

We're taking a jaunt through the entirety of a rugby team.  And not just any rugby team, but the Cal rugby team!  We've talked with Marc TausendScott AndersonRay LehnerMichael Freeman, Rob WeedonJoel DiGiorgio, Andrew Blair, Michael MacDonald and John Buchholz.  

Today, we are talking with Louis Stanfill, another great Cal rugger.  Really, as we are learning in this series, every Cal rugger is great!  Louis Stanfill is a rugger so great that he actually has his own Wikipedia page:

Louis Stanfill (born 30 May 1985) is an American rugby union player. He currently plays for Mogliano, and for the United States national side. Stanfill made his international debut against Canada in May 2005, at the age of 19.[1] Stanfill plays as a back row player at flanker or No. 8. Stanfill was included in the USA squad for the 2007 World Cup, where he scored a try against both Tonga and Samoa in the Eagles pool matches.

We've spoken with other professional ruggers, like Michael MacDonald.  Louis Stanfill currently plays for an Italian professional team.  That is the quality of players that Cal has on its team.  It is just unfortunate that there isn't a high quality professional league in America.  They have to go abroad to ply their trade and make a living.  

Louis Stanfill was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule and write back answers to these great questions.  We're so thankful for that.  He represents not just Cal, but also America abroad and carries the Blue and Gold and Red, White, And Blue with pride and dignity.  Please join us after the jump for all his answers.  Thanks and GO BEARS!

1. What got you interested in playing rugby initially?
When I was a freshman at Jesuit High school in Sacramento, I decided to make the transition from baseball to rugby because I was drawn to the contact of the sport. That, and a desire to not get into trouble by confessing to my father that I had lost my baseball mitt during PE class my first semester of high school.


2. What got you interested in playing rugby at Cal?
Well, my older brother, Jake, had been recruited and joined the Bears, which certainly helped in me getting noticed. After some time waiting for certain schools to come through with scholarship offers for football (or rather, to NOT come through with a scholarship), going to Cal for rugby was my next choice and I couldn't be happier about it!

3. What is the rugby recruitment process like?
As I said before, my brother was already playing for Cal, which certainly helped in me getting noticed and getting started early. I had met Coach Clark along with my brother as a sophomore in high school after an introduction from our Coach, Fred Khasigian. There were several more moments of contact from then to my senior year when it was formally stated that they wished for me apply to Cal for the fall semester of '03. After a few small chats with Coach Clark via telephone, he invited my parents and I up to the Doc Hudson Field House for a formal sit down, where he outlined a bit about Cal Rugby history, how things worked at Witter Field, what he and the staff expected from players and finally how the admission process worked. My application was already in and it was just a matter of the waiting game. After my hopes for a scholarship in football dried up, I made the decision to become a Bear! Although it was funny how the football team was recruiting me, but then stopped when the deadline was approaching, only to offer me a walk spot. But my loyalty and focus was with rugby, and I am glad it stayed that way.

4. Did you play on the frosh-sophs team?
Not really. My first game as a Bear was with the A side in the first game of the season against St. Mary's. I spent a couple games on the B-side my freshman year, but it wasn't until my sophomore year when the frosh-soph team was put into place.

6. Can you take us through the average rugby practice?
Practices were from Tuesday to Friday from 5 to about 6:30. We would always start with a dynamic warm-up followed by some stretching. After that, it was into some basic handling drills. These drills were staples, as they taught us how to pass and catch correctly, how to run proper lines and how to beat a defender. After that, we would usually split into forwards and backs; forwards would work on scrums and lineouts and the backs would work on backline moves. Towards the end of the week, contact would decrease in trainings and we would work as a team, running through plays together until Friday, the day before a game, when training would be a team run. Team runs were ideally and usually short, sharp, and precise.

7. What activities outside of official rugby practice did you partake in to stay in shape?
I ran and lifted weights religiously and played touch rugby when weather and participants would permit. The Firetrail was always a team favorite. These were the usually activities for a majority of the team. I also enjoyed playing basketball when I could.

8. Can you take us through the average home rugby game? What are your pre-game activities? What are your post-game activities?
I would get to the stadium two hours before the game to get taped and to do my own stretching before going into the south end locker room. An hour before the game, Coach Clark would bring us together and give a brief outline of objectives or just a quick head count. We would then warm up on Memorial, going through a routine of dynamic stretching, ball handling and unit skills, which for forwards meant going through lineouts and scrums. After our warm up, Coach Clark or Coach Billups would give us one last speech, ranging from a more detailed, more passionate list of objectives to a fiery speech that would put us all into a "dark closet" that would help us perform our best. After the speech, we would walk up to Witter Rugby Field, which was always a time to take whatever focus you had and make it ten fold. After that was a run through the west gate, a national anthem, then the game.
After the game, we would host the visiting team at one of the larger houses of an older teammate to some food and beverages. Finally, we would clean ourselves off and do our best to behave that evening.

9. What do you love most about your experience on the team w/ Coach Clark?

Coach Clark's professional approach is unrivalled. His systems, methods of coaching and overall approach on how a successful rugby team operates and presents itself to the community are aspects I have missed since the day I graduated.

10. What was the toughest game during your career and why?
Collegiate National Title Finals 2006 versus BYU because that was the best team I ever played against as a Golden Bear.

11. Any good stories on how you and your teammates would go about intimidating the opposition and dominate?
There is not much more intimidating than a team what imposes their will on their opposition from minute one to minute 80. We always strived to be a team that is relentless and gives nothing to the opposition, hitting as hard and accurate as we can every opportunity we get, finishing every opportunity we get to score a try. The fantastic part is that this is the attitude expected of each athlete on the squad. It would suck to be on the opposite side of such a team.

12. What are some of the fine details rugby fans should pay attention to when they first get into the game?
Some finer details would be trying to keep an eye on the ruck and what happens in and around it. This is the most frequent occurrence in a rugby game and is often the most confusing.

13. What is the funniest moment during your time as a rugger for Cal?
There are so many memories, it is very hard to string out the funny ones. Well, I was usually the subject of the jokes. On one occasion my sophomore year, I was quoted in a nationally published magazine, in a rugby based article saying that if we had more sex, there would be less war, using the bonobo chimpanzees as my example. That got quite the reaction out of Coach Clark. I don't know what the hell I was talking about. I think the reporter manipulated me.

14. What was your favorite moment as a rugger for Cal?
Winning the 2006 Collegiate National Championship with my older brother, Jake, playing next to me at lock.

16. Hypothetically, if you are the coach for women's rugby @ Cal, how would you build a successful program that is comparable to men's?

The men's team is an entire group of fully committed athletes working towards the same goal as individuals and as a team: constant performance improvement. For this, rugby must take priority only behind family and school. To get the most out of each player, it is expected that they work hard on every area of their game, from the basic skills (ie ball placement, passing, tackling, rucking) to the more specific skills (ie scrumming, jumping and lifting, throwing, kicking) in order to improve from game to game.

I do not know a much about the woman's team, but a large problem in many clubs across the country, men's and women's, is this "happy to be here, I like playing and it gives me something to do" attitude. This ethos may keep rugby fun, but it does not breed champions. So, an overall change in ethos would be needed. A team that continues to make the same mistakes goes nowhere or improves at a snail's pace. It is necessary for a coach to instill an ethos that pushes every athlete to expect more of him or herself. Leaders help to make their teammates better, but every athlete must pay attention in training so that lessons only need to be taught once, thus moving towards constant performance improvement. I feel that these are expectations lost in many teams at many levels.

17. How has the experience of playing rugby transformed your career after graduating from Cal?
Personal accountability. Personal accountability is being responsible for all that you are and every action you make. Personal accountability has driven me to expect more from myself than others would, and to work hard in order to fulfill that potential. Since Cal, I have played for many clubs at many levels with many different coaches. This has helped me to develop as a skilled rugby player, but my strengths in leadership, work ethic and personal accountability have been my most notable attributes taken from Cal Rugby that will be with me forever.

18. What is your view on the situation surrounding the recent budget cuts at Cal that briefly imperiled rugby's status as a varsity sport? Do you believe there was a difference between "varsity" and "varsity club"? What do you think about how that process was handled by the administration?

I believe that the action taken by the administration was short sighted and the areas in which to cut budget were misdirected.

All I have to say is that the administration does not do a very good job in keeping the university happy and out of debt. And they get paid how much?

19. What is your view on the serious injuries many rugby players incur? Do you think it is more or less safe than football? What changes, if any, do you think are necessary to improve safety? Do you think enough is done to help players handle serious injuries, such as concussions?

The most common injuries seen in rugby are bruises and cuts. The occasional sprained ankle or muscle, torn meniscus or ligament, or injured shoulder does occur, but it is a contact game. These are risks you face when playing a high velocity sport where you run, jump, hit and get hit. Things like strength training, stretching and healthy lifestyles help to prevent some injuries, but learning proper form in training in how to hit and how to get hit is the key.
Football is no doubt more dangerous. Mouthpieces are essential in any contact sport and will save one from losing teeth and receiving a concussion in most situations.

20. What is your view on Rugby Sevens? Legit form of rugby or bastardization of the game?

7's is of course a legit form of rugby union. In America, 7's is popular because it is marketable, there are less people on the field, and it is faster. Also because the halves are only 7 minutes, it is easier to watch without trying to figure out all the rules. In America, it is more popular than 15's, which sucks for me because I don't play 7's. The rest of the rugby playing nations, however, use 7's as a way to prepare and assess their faster, younger, more skilled players for the real deal, tests matches (15's). In America, I feel we have it backwards, we see the 7's team as the pinnacle and not the 15's team, which draws much more attention and, in my mind, is seen as more important than the 15's national team.

21. Do you still keep in touch with your teammates?

It is hard to see them, being on the road all the time and playing overseas. But I definitely see them every time I go home.

22. Do you still follow Cal Rugby?

I do. Go Bears!


Position Questions. Flanker:

1. What is your role in a scrum?

To push against the props on engagement and play the ball as it exits the scrum.

2. What tactics do you use to accomplish your goal in a scrum?

Low body profile, straight back, balance, and keeping my eyes up, ears open and communicate what happens in front of me.

3. You appear to be a member of the "Loose Forwards." Besides the world's worst band name, what are the Loose Forwards?

Loose forwards are flankers (there are 2) and the no. 8. They are called this because they are not engaged with the opposition or another teammate in the scrum, allowing them to leave the scrum and be the first to play defense or support on offensive

4. What is your role as a member of the Loose Forward on offense? On defense?

Loose forwards are often expected to hit many rucks on offense and, depending on the skill level, run the ball as a big bruiser or a shifty smaller guy. We are a link to the backs, are expected to know what the backs are doing, and must be able to make a pass, long or short, or run a move, complicated or simple.

On defense, we are expected to make a fair amount of tackles and make it hard for the opposition to play the ball quickly. This means when a tackle is made, we must get to our feet and get to the ball or support a tackle by hitting the opposition in the rucks as hard as we can, staying on our feet.

5. What tactics do you use to accomplish your goal as a flanker?

Communication is vital for all players on the field, but for a loose forward, it is especially important because you must know what the backs are doing as well as the rest of the forward pack. Good vision helps to predict what the offense may try to do on the next phase. Being smart helps all players, but for flankers, it is vital as they need to process tons of information in a very short time. This is all made possible with a high fitness level.

6. Do you have any special practices that you do to help you as a flanker?

Extra conditioning and working on poaching (stealing) ball in the tackle.

8. What originally got you interested in being a flanker?

My body type makes me fit for flanker, my background in basketball gave me a good grasp on ball skills, which a flanker needs, and my appetite for hitting and working hard also aided the decision.

9. Are there any other positions you like to play?

Though I play flanker, my height also allows me to play lock when needed and my balls skills make me a usable no. 8 as well. However, like many forwards, I wouldn't mind being a back from time to time. Outside center always looked like fun...

10. Is there anything about your body that makes you a natural fit for a flanker?

My height (6'3") and my weight (250 lbs.) make me a large flanker, but ideal for lots of contact. My height and strength helps me in the lineout.

11. What is the difference between blindside flank and open side flank?

The blindside covers the narrower side of the field in the scrum and the open side covers the wider side. Blindsides can afford to be larger, as they have less room to defend off scrums. Open sides are usually more mobile.

12. Which one did you play more?


13. Which one did you enjoy playing more?

Doesn't matter.

14. How are the tactics different for blindside flank compared to openside flank?

Both are trying to achieve the same goal. Open side tends to be a bit more obnoxious in the rucks, harder for the opposition to deal with.



1. What was it like to be selected to the All-American team?

Fantastic feeling.

2. What is the selection process there for the All-American team?

To be honest, I'm not sure. I received my first cap for the Eagles that summer and the All-American tour was later that summer.

3. What were the practices like for the All-American tour?

Double days, players trying extra hard to impress the coaching staff. It is very hard to get players from many different backgrounds on the same page in such a short time. There was little contact as any injury in training could eliminate a player from getting any game time.

4. What was your favorite moment playing for the All-American team?

Well, I only played one game and got injured in that game. Not a whole lot of awesome memories. But we were in New Zealand and we did get to go see the provincial side of Wellington play, which was awesome. Also, spending time with all these different players is a rare and great treat.

5. How did it feel representing America abroad?

It is always a great feeling when you get to wear the red, white and blue overseas.

6. How is the All-American team viewed abroad?

I'm not totally sure. I would imagine that Americans playing rugby in rugby playing countries, we would be seen as a bunch of gridiron mongrels trying to play rugby. After watching us play, I am sure that perception changes

7. What did you learn at Cal that helped you succeed at the All-American team?

Cal has helped me succeed within every team.


US National Team

1. What is your favorite moment on the National Team?

Playing in the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France.

2. What was it like to be selected for the National Team?

Like an opportunity you hope you do not let slip away. Many are given the opportunity, but get happy with just being there. That is a recipe for never making the team again. Making the team is not the pinnacle of a rugby career, leaving when you decide you cannot play anymore is.

3. What is the selection process like for the National Team?

Well, there is a general player pool of about 60 players, selected by the USA Head Coach, his assistants and his selecting advisor from various regions. The number is larger and then narrows as players are eliminated or kept based on their quality of play and the competition they are in. Camps of about 40-50 domestic players occur before assemblies, and there, the number is narrowed even further while players playing overseas are taken into consideration.

Well, that's how I THINK it happens.

4. Are the practices any different for the National Team than the Cal team?

Well, we only get a small window to train as a team before games with the National team, so the urgency and frequency of training is greater, but overall they follow a similar framework. At the National team, however, we are loaded with much more info where at Cal we get eased into game plan and schemes gradually as the season progresses.

5. What did you learn at Cal that helps you succeed at the National Team?

Personal accountability, leadership and a cerebral appreciation for the game has helped my international endeavors immensely.


Italian Team - Mogliano

1. What interested you in playing there?

I received an email last summer while playing in Australia from one of the directors of rugby at Mogliano. They had seen my youtube clip and were interested in signing me.

2. Did/Do you play the same position as you played at Cal?

Yes. I played no. 8 at Cal my last two years and I play no. 8 here in Mogliano. For the USA team, I play blindside flanker. The roles at the scrum are different but both roles are nearly identical outside of that.

3. What is the biggest difference between playing with the Italian team and playing at Cal?

The coaching and general philosophy and ethos at Cal is head and shoulders above my Italian team and most every team, if not every team I have ever played for.

6. What did Coach Clark teach you at Cal that has helped you succeed with Mogliano?

Leadership is something that few people learn about. Coach Clark has given the easiest lesson to his players to become leaders. It is very simple; a leader makes those around him/her better and more productive. And I lead from the front. This ethos will stick with me and help me be a leader for the rest of my life.

7. How is your Italian?

Cusi cusi. I take lessons and have come a long way. I can hold a little conversation and take care of myself when I am out and about. The Italians have been impressed with how much I have learned and how well I speak it, but I feel it has a long way to go.

8. Can you take us through the average day of a professional rugby player?

Ha! It's the life.
8:40am Wake up, eat breakfast
10:00-11:30 Gym, followed by coffee and a small bit to eat with the other English speakers at a local café.
2:30-3:30 nap
3:30-4:15 Sit in the sun (when it is sunny)
4:30- Supper
6:00- Pre-training warmup, includes injury prevention exercises, stretching, getting taped, skills work.
7:30-9:15 Training
10:00 Dinner
12:00 Lights out

9. Are the practices any different for the Italian team than the Cal team?

Much different. Cal trainings were always a crapshoot of what we were going to do. Coach Clark and Coach Billups are full of knowledge and do not fall into a routine. This is very important on keeping athlete's interested and thinking.

We are certainly routine based in Italy. It is not ideal, but I make the most of it.



Many thanks to Louis Stanfill!