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Florida Collegiate Conference Kicks Off This Weekend

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Florida Collegiate Conference Kicks Off This Weekend

FSU vs UCF in 2022. Mark Chambers photo.

The Florida Collegiate Conference received a good piece of praise from GRR and as the FCC returns for its 2023 season, let's revisit that.

The reason the FCC came under praise was because every team was good, some very good, and the games were played. That may not seem like much, but it presented a nice example for other conferences—ensuring that your weakest team is still a good, capable team that can show up and play rugby—is the key to long-term success.

This coming weekend, the FCC kicks off with defending champs Florida State hosting South Florida, North Florida at Florida International in a clash of two teams that were 3-3 in 2022, and 2022 runners-up Central Florida at the Florida Gators.

Florida Atlantic has a bye.

Central Florida comes in after having lost the final by a whisker.

"Last year was a tough to come that close but fall just short," said Head Coach Evan Haigh. "We are pretty excited about the season. We have re-tooled pretty well but we not even close to the finished product yet."

Returning for the Knights is almost the entire 2022 backline. Flyhalf Caleb Goertzen is a "goalkicking magician," said Haigh and he runs the attack. "Fullback Lewis Prevost can lurk around the strike from anywhere, which he does."

The forward pack is not as experienced for UCF. Sophomores workhorses Jack Puchalaski and Jarret Brodrecht return in the back row, and then Haigh has a bunch of athletic but young players who have a ton of potential, but will need to get up to speed quickly.

Defending champions Florida State is back and their numbers are impressive, with over 70 players registered with USA Rugby.

And there is plenty of competition for places as the Seminoles have graduated several accomplished players.

Connor Simon, a freshman last year, has been making strides at loosehead prop, while Jared Romine, who joined the team late last spring, looks good in the #3 jersey.

With senior hooker Matt Cuomo, University of Houston transfer Elijah McLaughlin, and club president Roman Bishop ensure they are deep up front.

Second rows Ethan Schaefer and Chris Canty are still fairly new to the game, but are athletic and improving rapidly. Bear Bollinger is back from studying abroad and anchors a back row that also includes Jack O'Keeffe, probably their best player last year. Head Coach Michael Gomez has moved returning center Yousef Abu to flanker and that back row unit is a strong one.

In the backs, Benz Celestin returns at scrumhalf after a very strong 2022, while freshman Sebastian Tanner has staked a strong claim to the #10 jersey. There is plenty of talent to unleash on the outside, and while returning center Angus Kelly is dealing with an injury, Luca Marfella and Sam Williams constitute a solid midfield assisted by two freshmen from Knightmare Rugby in Lancaster, Pa.—Aidan Wingert and Danny Bennett.

"As always, I'm a bit nervous," said Gomez. "I don't think we had as comprehensive of a preseason as we did last year. We had a couple of teams drop out of friendlies that really lowered the competition level."

The conference ran 7s at the end of the fall and Gomez didn't like the jumping around between 7s and 15s. 

"This weekend will definitely be a test," he said. "My biggest concern is the cohesiveness and team chemistry."

Not So Independent

Last year the FCC was an independent conference that played no part in any postseason. This year the conference is now in a partnership with CRAA and will participate in a bowl setup with other CRAA DIAA teams at the end of the season.

Florida DIAA Partnering with CRAA

At least the top two Florida teams are set for those bowl games. The journey there starts this weekend