Rough and tumble

NMU Moosemen would have it no other way with camaraderie that rugby engenders

Northern Michigan University Moosemen Rugby Club member Cal Parrella, right, tries to throw the ball to teammate Cooper Herman, in the air with arms outstretched at left, during a match against Wisconsin-Stout during the fall season. Holding up Herman are NMU's Larry Feeley and Nick D'Andrea while pictured at far left is NMU's Pat Bailey and Jacob Kaiser. (Photo courtesy NMU Moosemen Rugby Club)

MARQUETTE — The oldest sports club team at Northern Michigan University, the Moosemen Rugby Club, completed their spring season two weeks ago, but are already looking forward to recruiting new members when next school year starts in August.

The NMU Moosemen were established in 1979.

“We’re a brotherhood and we’re all very close,” club Vice President Cal Parrella said. “We take road trips to Wisconsin every weekend in the fall and play against Wisconsin teams.”

Rugby is a mix of football and soccer and is very different from other sports.

“You can’t pass forwards, you can only pass backwards,” Match Secretary Larry Feeley said. “You can kick at anytime and what makes rugby different is that there’s no stoppage of time ever so we’re always playing.”

There are no timeouts in rugby with games being 80 minutes long with a halftime period.

“It’s a pretty grueling fight on the field, but afterwards we’ll get together with the team and talk about the game,” Feeley said.

The Moosemen have made the playoffs two years in a row.

“Two years ago, we went 5-1 and last year, we went 4-2,” Parrella said.

“We’ve had a lot of good, committed guys in our group,” Feeley said. “We practice hard together. We’re always together off the field and that shows on the field when we play because we play as a unit.”

The team participated in spring tournaments with the first tournament being Mudfest the first weekend of April in Platteville, Wisconsin, where they took second place.

The weekend after Mudfest, the team traveled and competed in the Northern Iowa 7s Tournament in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

“In the fall, we play 15s, so 15 players on each team, so 7s is seven players on each team,” Feeley said. “It’s a much faster game with less players, but more passing and running. We traveled with a smaller squad and played well.”

The team ended the spring schedule two weekends ago with two friendly matches against the Traverse Bay Blues men’s team and Ferris State. The team won both games by more than 40 points each.

Feeley said that the team had a successful spring season and added that the team a committed core group of players who showed up and played well.

The social aspect of rugby is why so many players love playing it.

“Rugby culture is very unique compared to other sports,” Parrella said. “In other sports, you hate each other forever, like during and after the game you don’t like each other, but in rugby you’re enemies during the game, but after it’s like nothing happened.”

There are two main positions in rugby: forwards and backs. Forwards are the bigger and tougher guys and do most of the physical work. The backs are the faster guys who can get the ball out real quick and try to score.

Feeley added that every number is a certain position, too, on the field. One and 3 are props, No. 2 is called hooker, 4 and 5 are locks, and 6 and 7 are flankers. Eight is called the No. 8, 9 is scrum half, 10 is fly half, 11 and 13 are wings, 12 is inside center, 14 is outside center and 15 is fullback.

Even with summer coming soon, the team is going to be hard at work preparing for the fall season.

“We’re going to recruit a lot at orientation for freshmen so hopefully we can get a few guys with experience that have played before in high school,” Parrella said. “Once the fall starts, the first two weeks, we will teach new guys how to play and practice about three or four days a week and then get ready for our first game, which is normally a scrimmage against Michigan Tech.”

What makes the Moosemen so unique is that no player stands out and they work really well as a team.

“If one of us lacks a certain skill, there’s always a player next to them or behind them who exceeds with that skill and can always help the team play as a unit,” Feeley said.

The team has a core of their current team coming back next year, and they are always open to new members.

“The best thing about rugby is that it’s so open and friendly to new people,” Parrella said. “Everyone’s always welcomed to play, whether if you’ve never played before or you’ve played your whole life. Wherever you go and play, you’ll automatically have friends because you play the same sport.”

Email Julie Goldberg at sports@miningjournal.net.