Collegiate rugby can trace its United States roots back to the 1870s. Almost a century later, Spring Hill College fielded its first squad.

Only a club team for much of its time, the Badgers’ athletic department now supports the crew. With the transition to NCAA Division II status nearly complete, the future is bright on The Hill.

Perhaps the best example of what potentially lies ahead for SHC can be seen in the recognition earned by Mark Spicer Jr. Following a tremendous freshman campaign, he was invited to audition for a berth on the Men’s Junior All-American squad that was preparing for a berth in the Junior World Rugby Trophy under-20 tournament.

Spicer just missed making the final roster. His presence might have made the difference, as the USA team lost to Canada for the chance to represent the North American region in Montevideo, Uruguay, this September.

(Photo | Spring Hill College) Six-foot-1-inch, 265-pound Mark Spicer Jr. recently auditioned for a berth on the Men’s Junior All-American rugby squad.

“I knew he had the potential,” Justin Goonan, who has coached the SHC men and women’s rugby teams since 2014, said of Spicer. “I expected him to make a significant impact. He is a very talented player.”

The 19-year-old Spicer was a standout in both football and rugby at St. Paul’s School in Covington, Louisiana. He quickly made an impact for the Badgers with his 6-foot-1, 265-pound frame.

“He came in with good credentials,” said Goonan, who played rugby at Texas A&M. “I was confident that with coaching and training in college he could develop in our environment.”

Spicer was first noticed by USA Rugby scouts while playing on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. The coaching staff for the Junior All-Americans kept tabs on him as the year progressed.

“To quote one of the national team coaches, it is just his ‘raw athleticism’,” Goonan said of Spicer. “To be that size and to play at that speed, what he does is unique and special.”

Spicer was one of 40 players invited to the tryouts in Chula Vista, California. This included candidates from both NCAA and NAIA colleges. He was among the last cuts before the final 26-man roster was announced.

However, he was placed on the extended roster in case the team needs a replacement. Until that time, he has returned to work with a club team in New Orleans before preparing for his sophomore year in Mobile.

“Mark is an exceptional young man on and off the pitch,” said J.D. Stephenson, head coach of USA Rugby’s Junior All-Americans. “His drive and dedication to rugby was evident in the way in which he performed through our identification camps and into our wider training squad. Mark is in a great daily training environment with Coach Goonan and it’s been a pleasure to work with him and to see his progression throughout the year.”

Spicer’s tryout has been the biggest honor of any player since Goonan has been at Spring Hill. Before then, Sean Gannon had also gained some national notice.

Spicer plays the “eight-man” position in rugby, which is at the back of the scrum — the most familiar part of rugby, where players interlock their arms and attempt to gain possession of the ball. “He is a strong ball carrier and a strong defensive player,” Goonan said.

For the national team, Spicer was at the “prop” position. They are the anchors of the scrum on the front row. “They take the brute force of the hit,” Goonan said. “They do the driving in the scrum.”

The Spring Hill men will return for their 15-player season in late August. The season will run from early September through November, then play again in January and February. Once March comes around, the Badgers switch to the seven-player format — which was used in the Rio Olympics — through April.

“Outside of the physical aspects, what sets Mark apart is his energy and passion,” Goonan said. “He is a person who wears his heart on his sleeve. His energy is contagious, and it can intimidate the opposite side.”

Sports briefs
• Dr. Thomas P. Rosandich, founding president of the U.S. Sports Academy in Daphne, has been named to the International Sports Hall of Fame. The ISHOF is a nonprofit foundation established by well-known fitness expert Dr. Robert M. Goldman “to honor the world’s greatest athlete legends in all sports.”

Rosandich was inducted during the Arnold Schwarzenegger Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio, the world’s largest annual multi-sports weekend festival, which hosts 175,000 attendees and more than 18,000 competing athletes. Joining him as part of the 2017 class were American actor and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno, Heisman Trophy-winning running back Herschel Walker, American speed skating Olympic champion Apolo Ohno and American world champion powerlifter Bill Kazmaier.

In announcing the award, the ISHOF stated that “Dr. Thomas P. Rosandich has had a long and storied career in the profession of sport dating to the early 1950s and served as founder and president of the U.S. Sports Academy for more than 43 years, developing the No. 1 sports academy in the world. A highly regarded track coach, his athletes included numerous Olympic and world record holders.”

• The Reese’s Senior Bowl presented $14,000 to the Palmer Williams Group at the recent “Dinner with Emmitt Smith” fundraising event. PWG is a nonprofit organization focusing on developing disadvantaged youth through programs that offer physical fitness activities, nutritional counseling and life-skills development.

“The Reese’s Senior Bowl is proud to support the Palmer Williams Group that (sic) does such a great job in providing opportunities for the youth in our area through their teams, camps and outreach programs,” bowl officials said.

• Mobile’s Parks and Recreation Department received a donation valued at $15,000 from the Mobile Realtors Charitable Foundation. The gift includes video games, bumper tables, board games and other items.

“Thousands of students participate in community activities provided by the Mobile Parks and Recreations Department each summer,” Katrina Frazier, community activities coordinator, said. “Many students in need will benefit from this donation.”