Several freshmen will be donning college rugby jerseys for the first time at UCLA’s North Athletic Field in the Dennis Storer Classic this weekend, but one Cal newcomer will likely fill his uniform out a little better than most – Edward Tandy.
Tandy is the first gridiron Cal Bear to play rugby and football at the same time since Shaun Paga in the mid-90s. Several senior football players have laced up for the rugby Bears after their final gridiron seasons were complete, but not since Pauga, a walk-on, has an active member of the football team also played rugby full-time. Pauga went on to earn a scholarship and an NFL tryout.
“He’s a three-star football recruit. He’s a guy that would have multiple scholarship offers,” said Cal head coach Jack Clark of Tandy. “He’s here to be a football player. And, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure whether the previous staff would have embraced him playing rugby, but the current staff does.”
At 6-1, 220-pounds, Tandy is a linebacker on the gridiron. He played high school rugby with Back Bay, winning the club MVP award his senior year. He also toured with the High School All American 7s team. Tandy was not recruited by Clark or anyone from the rugby team, but when he arrived in Berkeley, the rugby coaching staff took notice. Clark gauged Tandy’s interest in playing rugby, sat down with Bears football coach Sonny Dykes, and now Tandy is a two-sport athlete.
The details of Tandy’s availability through the spring haven’t been completely ironed out. BYU’s Paul Lasike is perhaps the only other current example of a scholarship player in a major college football program able to also play rugby. His time with the rugby Cougars is limited in the spring. Last century, especially in the '60s and '70s, college rugby teams were littered with football players. Now it's almost unheard of.
“The requirements of football players have really grown, and there’s a lot of expectation for them. In season it’s overwhelming the time commitment for them. Even in the spring it’s pretty intense,” said Clark, who played football and rugby at Cal.
“For a guy to play another sport, it’s really quite difficult. I really want to be as cooperative as we can. I don’t want Ed to feel pressure of letting us down or letting his football teammates down. I want to be as understanding as possible of just how difficult it is to do this. That means on our end we’ll have to make some accommodations.”
While Tandy still has a lot to work on as a freshman rugby player, Clark is clearly excited about the type of player he could become.
“He’s trying to learn a new position. When you look at him, he’s physically very gifted. It’s real clear that he’s an elite athlete. I think he’s going to be able to help us best, and I think his best position would be, in the back row, and that’s all very new to him,” said Clark.
“From a rugby standpoint, he looks like a freshman rugby player. But it doesn’t take much to close your eyes and see that he’s obviously athletically very special and you can see in just a little bit of time where he’ll really be quite good at the sport if he sticks with it.”
Clark also lauded Tandy’s eagerness to get better.
“He works real hard. He’s used to being coached. He listens, and he very seldom makes the same mistake twice, because in this day in age, [athletes need to] treat sport as study and to listen. he wants instruction and then he wants to try to follow it,” added Clark.
“He smiles pretty easy and works real hard. First guy in the meeting room, so he’s got a bunch of traits that are really endearing to me as a coach, so it’d be really exciting to think of him over the next couple of years if he sticks with us.”