The news itself was a surprise. USA scrumhalf Mike Petri has been busying himself in the coaching world and was working with his old high school, Xavier, on the rugby field.
During the training session, run by newly-appointed USA Head Coach Mike Tolkin, a message came in on Tolkin's phone - the New York Athletic Club had named Petri co-Athlete of the Year, along with shot putter Jillian Williams. Petri is the first rugby player to receive this prestigious honor, which is usually given to Olympic medal winners.
"I had no idea that was going to happen," said Petri, who will be back playing rugby for NYAC this season. "I was very, very surprised. Coach Tolkin told the guys at the end of practice. What I think, though, is that while it's exciting for me personally, I think it's a big deal for the sport. For rugby to get the recognition from the NYAC like that is tremendous. People are taking note of what American rugby players are doing on the world stage, and I think that's the sort of thing we can build on."
Long one to talk about his accomplishments as something for the sport as a whole, Petri is an enormously popular player. The Brooklyn native captained the USA U19s in 2002 and 2003, and the All Americans in 2006, as well as Xavier HS and, later, Penn State. He has also captained the USA, the first time being in 2009.
Petri has had a few spells playing pro rugby overseas, but those have not taken, usually because the limits on foreign players has made it hard for him to break into the lineup.
The story is that at one such club in England, the coach told all the players at a meeting, "if I had 15 players who worked as hard as Mike Petri, I would win every game."
But Petri was an American, and couldn't get minutes. So for 2011 he returned to NYAC, and worked two part-time jobs, one on Wall Street and one with his father's plumbing business.
Petri has now shifted gears. He is staying in New York, but has carved out a coaching career working at Xavier, at a series of camps around the country, and with Play Rugby with his former teammate, Christian Mayo.
"I have some personal goals," said Petri, who is still hoping to play for the USA. "My wife has been incredibly supportive and I am working on creating a lifestyle that is flexible enough for me to also be able to play rugby. I want to get into teaching, and as I work towards that, I will be coaching and that will allow me to continue to play rugby."
The award just helps make it all happen.
"In the end, this is all about rugby," said Petri. "I love the sport and I want to do anything I can to help spread the word. If the award does that, then that's great."