When a men’s club wins a national championship, and even more specifically, when a DII or DIII men’s club wins a national championship, there is often a rash of retirements the offseason thereafter.
Some guys figure they’ve reached the top of the mountain and there’s nowhere to go but down, and some were taping their body parts together just long enough to reach the pinnacle. For whatever reason, national championships beget retirements.
The Tampa Bay Krewe, defending DII national champs, were no exception after taking the title in a dramatic final against Doylestown last year. That, plus some defections for other reasons, has Krewe defending its title in Glendale, Colo. this weekend with a new crew.
“What we were faced with in the fall is, like every team that wins a championship, we had guys that were going to retire,” said Tampa coach Dai Morgan.
“We had a couple of guys who said, ‘That’s it for me, now I’m going to go out on a high,’ so we had to replace them. We had a couple of guys move away, move out of state. We have a lot of military people involved with the club, and one of our guys transferred, and that’s what you deal with when you have a military influence in your group.”
Morgan says about 10 starters from the 2010 national title team are back this season. That’s a loss of 33-percent. But Tampa has bolstered its roster with a rash of new players.
Headlining the list of newbies is Leslie Mango, formerly of the Maryland Exiles and Atlanta Old White 7s. The powerful Kenyan goes about 6-6 and 240 pounds and is a bruiser in Krewe’s back row.
One of the key losses for Tampa was a guy who, like Mango, moves faster than his stature would imply -- wing Shane Stewart. Stewart was a beefy wing, weighing in well over two bills and proving a tough tackle on the perimeter. He took a job opportunity in his Texas hometown. A newcomer and a veteran returning from a tour in Afghanistan are helping fill the void left by Stewart.
“Everyone said ‘Oh my God, how are you going to replace Shane?’,” recalled Morgan. “We picked up a young boy from USF, Travis Miller, who we think a lot of, and Jeff Brill was part of our club for half the season last year, then he got posted to Afghanistan before the playoffs, but we’ve had him all season this year and he’s developed into a fine player.”
One of the most exciting newcomers is Jason Grant, who was a scholarship quarterback at Florida Atlantic before transferring to South Florida and picking up rugby.
“We changed him from a No. 8 to a center, and while he’s a little raw, it’s his first season in men’s rugby, the guy’s been a standout all season,” said Morgan.
“We switched him as soon as I saw his feet, and if you’re an option quarterback, think about being an inside center. You can see all of those holes appearing and closing on offense and defense. He’s had to adjust to playing top-flight rugby, and he’s had to adjust to changing positions. He’s only been playing rugby for two years, but he’s come on really well.”
The infusion of new talent, coupled with the core of the old guard, has Morgan seeming confident in his team’s chances to repeat.
“I think we’re a more complete team this year,” he said. “We’ve managed to fill out the squad with players who are as good, if not better, than the guys that have left. I’m pretty happy with the squad this year.”