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San Diego Legion Academy Partners With Mira Costa College; Both Benefit

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San Diego Legion Academy Partners With Mira Costa College; Both Benefit

Photos Courtesy Mira Costa College

Building an academy system is a priority for many Major League Rugby teams, but getting such a program off the ground and competing isn’t always so easy—the San Diego Legion have found a path that works.

Working with the Legion, Matty Sandoval, who coaches at Torrey Pines HS and San Diego Mustangs, knew that the Legion Academy system needed to give serious playing opportunities to players after high school, but also open them up to educational or job training opportunities.

Meanwhile, as with most professional team academies, the academy doesn’t field a full squad. It’s usually less than 15 players, and so those players need to be partnered with a club or other team to actually take the field.

Enter Mira Costa College.

Right On The Doorstep

“We talked about the fact that we wanted a well-supported program that could give the players an opportunity to further their education as well as train and play regularly,” said Sandoval. “And it turns out Mira Costa College was already doing that.”

A relatively new program, Mira Costa won the 2018 National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) Challenge Cup under Head Coach Keli Ross-Ma’u. They already had proved themselves a strong program, and so the Legion came to Ross-Ma’u with a proposal. How would you like the coaching assistance of Legion coaches and players, new equipment, and some top-flight young players, as well?

(Photo at left by Jerry Roberts. Photo above courtesy Mira Costa College.)

They all took the proposal to the school, and a new plan was born. The Legion is now helping coach and prepare the Mira Costa College players. The San Diego Legion Academy players are now enrolled at the school, working toward a two-year degree with the potential to transfer to a four-year school if that’s the right move.

“It’s fantastic,” said Legion coach and former USA 7s star Zack Test. “There’s a huge upside to this. The boys are training in an elevated environment and also furthering their education. They are student-athletes, being a student first, and we work with them to improve their rugby and also help them to be successful in their lives.”

Talent Influx

Mira Costa College players are joining the North American Lions team going to the Dubai 7s, and several of these players have High School All American or major Eagle Impact Rugby Academy experience. Tiaan Mosconi, Sean Nolan, Brandon Cole, and Beau Morgans were all standouts in Southern California high school rugby just last season. But that’s only the beginning.

“We want to develop players who play in the MLR, but that’s not the only thing,” said Test. “What they are in is a good rugby environment, and maybe they track to play MLR, and maybe they transfer to a four-year school. All we want is for that player to succeed, whatever it is.”

Test said that Ross-Ma’u has been “fantastic” in how he has welcomed Legion coaches into the program. There have been few growing pains and the results so far in warmup matches against San Diego State and UCLA’s 2nd side have been impressive. 

“I’ve personally learned more about the benefits of planning a practice schedule and the focus of attention to detail,” said Ross-Ma’u. “And having any experienced player join your team is always a plus. Having experienced players creates a space for them to be leaders as they help the rookies learn the game exponentially faster.”

Ross-Ma’u points to the Legion’s stated mission: "to introduce the culture of rugby to the local community and provide a conduit for education, inspiration and leadership through the sport." That, he said is how he sees the partnership with Mira Costa College.

“What Legion is doing in the greater community gives people a sense of belonging to rugby, as a player, parent, coach, supporter, and student,” said Ross Ma’u. “That's my favorite part of rugby, the culture of inclusivity.”

A Clear Path

Being part of the Legion Academy, the players learn more than just the ins and outs of the college game. They will take the refereeing course, and the USA Rugby Level 200 coaching course. And they don’t lose that connection with the Legion by attending college.

A player can now go from high school to the Legion Academy, play in college, get a degree and build his rugby resume, and then assess options as he matures.

“A player can look at this and say ‘there’s a clear path I can follow.,’” said Test.

The Legion is expanding its reach in the area and is also working closely with University of San Diego. But the message is clear: an MLR Academy system doesn’t have to circumvent college rugby. On the contrary, the two might thrive even more if they work together.