Glendale’s American Raptors want to be a pipeline for the U.S. National Team

In Glendale, the American Raptors are in the midst of an experiment that could change the country’s strategy to develop rugby talent.

Infinity Park has been home to amateur or professional rugby since 2007, but in the last two years the club has reorganized to play in “RugbyTown, USA”. The Raptors, formerly known as the Glendale Raptors, are now in the business of turning football players into rugby players while building a roster composed of crossover players. .

The Raptors roster are mostly the first college football players to graduate, and the seasons are not scheduled in the NFL, XFL or CFL. In those players, the Raptors have the closest football talent to turn the pitch, where the team will try to become a pipeline for the U.S. National Team.

“On the world stage, the United States is a second country in football,” explained Mark Bullock, founder of the Raptors and now serving as the team’s leader. “We have the feeling that we have good players in America, and we want the sport to perform at a high level – but we don’t see our elite players on the rugby field at the national level, and obviously, because .The best sports in the country are making a lot of money in the NFL (and other big pro lions).

“So we thought, can we find the next level of talent? We go to all kinds of small teams, and pro days, and then we practice every golf program in US is looking for players who meet our limits for size and sport.

While crossover players are nothing new on the U.S. National Team, what’s new is a team with a strong focus on retention and development for the sport.

This track changed the character of the Raptors, whose second season as a crossover team ended Saturday evening at Infinity Park against Peñarol, a team from Uruguay. The Raptors had competed in Major League Rugby for many years before that, but Bullock and the city of Glendale (who owns the team) decided to pull out the Lions in 2020.

“Part of the team’s main focus and one of the primary goals when it was founded was to develop and prepare players that would be suitable for the U.S. National Team,” Bullock said. “Then the Lions went the other way, which was to bring in a high number of foreign players, in our opinion the loss of American players… and the spread of the foreign players are not our goal.

Kathryn Scott, Special to The Denver Post

David Still (11) moved to the field for the American Raptors football team to play Pe -arol from Uruguay at Infinity Park on June 18, 2022 in Glendale.

When Bullock and Raptors general manager Peter Pasque first started signing for the team in 2020, after a stroke of illness, they started by sending players. on the media site. One of those contenders was Saginaw Valley State linebacker Devin Still, who ended his pro day with COVID. With that, there also came an opportunity to sign with an NFL team.

However, a two -year start for the Cardinals, there is nothing to lose by securing his sacks for Glendale and becoming a professional in a sport he has never played before.

“I missed my free time with football, but the Raptors hit me with an Instagram post and asked me if I wanted to go out and try rugby,” Still recalled. “I don’t have anything else to do. I was working at a car dealership at the time, so I took them on their offer.

While 2021 is “a growing season for me and most of the Raptors,” it has always blossomed. He had time with the US Men’s Sevens last year, and this year, he toured the world with the sevens while showing himself on the wing.

It’s one of the Raptors ’most impressive records in the past two seasons, with about ten players signing with Major League Rugby from the club. Another player, Michael Bandy, joined the Los Angeles Chargers training team after a 2021 transfer in Glendale.

Pasque said retaining players before school “can sometimes be reassuring,” but most of the players the Raptors are coming to are small teams and want pro day to listen. Raptors players make monthly salaries ranging from $ 1,500 to $ 3,000 at the time and homes are offered in Glendale.

“We’ve got a coach here who’s been to the state of Michigan, and it takes seven months for him to finally say yes to come on a hiring day,” Pasque said. “We will fly them one day, meet him with the coaches, train with the team. It’s kind of like college education day. Now he was sold on it, but at first it was kind of far -fetched for many of these men. “

But this is the way Bullock, Pasque and the city of Glendale believe the team will continue in the long run. As Bullock put it, America is the “kind of poor kid” in the world of football. It could change by bringing in more talented football players.

The US National Team, called the Eagles, is 2-21 combined in their last Six World Cups. The U.S. has never progressed before on the water field, and at the last World Cup in Japan in 2019, the Eagles went 0-4 and were tied with a minus-104 score limit.

Looking ahead, there is hope that the state side of the sport – and the group of top athletes to draw in – will grow from the knowledge gained from hosting the 2031 men’s and 2033’s. Women’s Rugby World Cups. Those tournaments were offered in the US in May, and the 2031 version will be the first of the men’s Rugby World Cup in the Western Hemisphere.

But for the Raptors to do the next thing, they need a bonafide lion to play, instead of positioning opponents as the independent team they have had the past two seasons. Bullock envisioned an organization that would include companies from the top and bottom of the United States, which were seeking to seize the powers of South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and England.

“We’re working on establishing different teams from North America, and in some way collaborating, with teams from South America that also have the same goal of promoting their national teams without having to the great power of foreigners in the lists. “said Bullock.

Pasque hopes that in a decade or so, Glendale will be one of the main reasons for American football’s rise to prominence on the international stage.

It’s a worthwhile offer, considering the city’s role in the sport. In 2006, Glendale renamed itself “RugbyTown USA,” and built the 5,500 -seat Infinity Park as the first sports stadium in the country.

“If you take the University of Alabama football team, and play them for two years, I think they can win a lot of the top teams in the world,” Pasque said. . “The fact that we have the opportunity to try that idea here is a dream come true – the kind of things my father and I talked about when I was playing the pipe in high school. (and Ponderosa).

“Hopefully (in 5-10 years) we’re in a good league, we’re playing high-end football, and hopefully a lot of our players will join the U.S. National Team. And , hopefully, the US National Team is working on winning the World Cup, and the Raptors have played that. “

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