While the local Texas teams (A&M and Texas on the men's side and Texas, Sam Houston and Texas Tech on the women's) were eliminated from National Title contention prior to the final, Arkansas State’s team did boast some Texas flavor, with tournament MVP Zac Mizell, scrumhalf Dylan Carrion and standout Zinzan Elan-Puttick all coming from the Lone Star State.
“It was great playing in front of all the home crowd, family and friends,” Carrion said.
Mizell and Carrion are from the greater Dallas area. Carrion played for Plano and Alliance in high school, and Mizell for Alliance. Both went on to play for the Dallas Harlequins Super League and 7s sides before Arkansas State.
Elan-Puttick has a starkly different story. He moved to Dalhart, Texas (outside of Amarillo) from South Africa at the age of 16 and picked up gridiron football. He was recruited to West Texas A&M, where he red shirted his freshman year before deciding to go back to the sport of rugby, which he’d played growing up across the pond.
Coincidentally, he went to school with recent ASU alums Nardus Wessels and Danie Swanepoel in South Africa, and they helped funnel him to Arkansas State.
The three Texans combined for 13 of Arkansas State’s 28 tries on the weekend and well over half the Red Wolves’ points. And while Mizell was named tournament MVP by USA Rugby, Elan-Puttick had a fantastic weekend in his own right.
"I think he probably could have very well been the best player for this tournament. He tackled like an absolute machine," said ASU coach Alex Houser of Elan-Puttick. "Super fit, played probably the most minutes of anybody. Then, obviously, his kickoffs were awesome, and he did well with his conversions, too."
Arkansas State is sometimes criticized for the heavy South African influence on its roster, but American players like Gavin Brown (Indiana), Michael Baska (Kansas), Pat Sullivan (Illinois) and Dale Bates (Hawaii), along with the three Texans, were pillars of the program’s first-ever National Title.
“That adds everything to it, actually,” said Mizell of winning the National Championship in his home state, “and the funny thing is we have a South African Texan, Zinzan, who scored a great try at the end, so it’s the best of both ends. I wouldn’t change who I played with for anybody.”