From the sidelines last year, Assistant Coach Dan Kramer watched the Franciscan men’s rugby team, plagued by injury, finish the season with a loss to Robert Morris University in the confer-ence championship.
A year later, now promoted to head coach, Kramer intends to allow for a new season to allow for the discipline and progress required to take this team to the next level. Though it is early in the season, Kramer has noted the intensity in his players. “There’s a sense of hunger in them; they want to play and they want to learn.”
The team dynamic begins with what Kramer calls “a great rookie class.” Though he says most don’t yet understand all the fundamentals of rugby, they are nevertheless “learning quickly” and will provide depth for an already talented squad. “All fifteen guys are out there playing rugby, no matter the position or body type. We’re playing as one team.”
Kramer said, “Our veterans bring a lot of knowledge to the table. They know the game, it’s click-ing, and they’re teaching the younger guys.”
With the new position comes the increased responsibility of calling the shots, a role to which Kramer said he is still acclimating. “It’s tough making those tactical decisions on the spot, in the heat of the moment.”
Thankfully, his promotion from assistant to head coach was made easier by his athletes’ unwa-vering support and respect. Of the transition, Kramer said, “It helped that the guys have treated me the same way. They treat all their coaches with a lot of respect.”
Kramer, a Franciscan alum, was himself a rugby player during his time at Franciscan University. Those roots have allowed him to instill in his team not only a hunger for victory, but also an un-derstanding of the true importance of the sport. “It’s not about winning rugby games for us,” he said. “Winning rugby games is an afterthought. It’s about becoming better men, becoming a bet-ter team, and becoming better Christians.”
Kramer stressed this year’s emphasis on both academics and balance. The team talks regularly about the importance of maintaining a high GPA. Acknowledged Kramer, “No matter how great of a rugby player you are, if your grades aren’t there, you aren’t going to play.” Through pre-serving his athletes in body, mind and spirit, Kramer understands that “winning rugby games is going to come naturally.”
“Rugby is constant decision-making,” said Kramer, while speaking on how the sport itself acts as an apt metaphor for life itself. “Once the whistle blows and the game begins, the coaches are
on the sidelines. You learn how to trust each other. We have to commit to our decisions. It’s the same thing in life.”
Kramer has his eyes set on the betterment of his athletes, on their understanding of rugby as a sport of commitment, and ultimately, on successful competition. “We want to get back to the regional tournaments, and then possibly to qualify for nationals,” said Kramer. If the dedication displayed by his team thus far can serve as any indication, he’s well on his way to a successful first year as head coach.