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San Diego Reloads, and Keeps Reloading

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San Diego Reloads, and Keeps Reloading

USD vs Iowa State in the CRAA D1AA final. Jeff Dalton photo.

The University of San Diego’s CRAA D1AA championship was not without hiccups, but in the end it was brilliantly finished.

Having graduated a small number of players who were nonetheless hugely influential—former No. 8 Michael Ramos could well have been the best D1AA player in the country—the Toreros were also dealing with a slight change in their season, with a smaller California South D1AA Conference.

“Yes our conference is small but there’s something to be said for that,” said USD Director of Rugby Kevin Eaton. “There are other conferences that are small that do well. We’ve played in a conference that’s been historically larger, but even then we had some scorelines that weren’t reflective of competitive games.”

The three-team conference of USD, Arizona State, and Claremont Colleges was a conference of three teams that knew what they were doing. Everyone played home-and-home and every game, said Eaton, was a challenge.

“We were down at halftime in both games against ASU and down at halftime against Claremont We are a very fitness-based team and so we tended to run away from teams late. Still they were very competitive games,” said Eaton.

The small conference schedule allowed USD to find challenges elsewhere, including D1A teams such as Arizona, San Diego State, and UCLA.

“What that helped us do was hold ourselves to a standard of play,” said Eaton. “We’re still kind of a young team. We graduated three or four guys from our starting lineup, and Michael Ramos was probably the best player we’ve ever had. But all we asked is if instead of Michael making big run after big run, our forwards all do one or two of those kinds of runs, and pick up their game a little bit, we could handle it. We have depth. We’ve got 62 players. And the young players stepped up; everyone knew their role.”

And yes the young players made an impact. Several of them came into USD with high-level HS experience. Eaton said they used the COVID shutdown to rethink how the program relates to alumni and especially to recruiting. USD is a Catholic University, so the connection to the Catholic school players in California was an obvious one. Starting loosehead Tanner Barnes is a freshman just recently out of Jesuit Sacramento. Sophomore flanker Sam Carlson is out of De La Salle. Sophomore tighthead Torres Kapust is also a DLS Spartan. Daniel Suhr, not from a Catholic school, is a nifty sophomore talent from Eastside Tsunami in Oregon, and was MVP of the D1AA final.

“Having young guys who’ve played at a relatively high level really helped us and you can see they played a big role in the final. Even those young players who didn’t play rugby showed well. Lock Brandon Guiducci played almost every minute of every game as a lock and a sophomore; his wrestling background, where he was a sectional champion in high school, was a huge factor. Dylan Joven (sophomore No. 8) played football at Cathedral Catholic but had played some young in middle school—he was a huge find. Add to that the experience of Mickey O’Leary and Michael Lewis at the halfback positions along with Paul Habeeb at center and Devin Hoovel at fullback and you have a championship combination.


Off the bench Josh Butler, a junior relatively new to rugby but a MVP HS football running back at Poway HS, was an impact player. Eaton and Head Coach Charlie Purdon made it simple for him—tackle the ballcarrier in front of you, run hard when you have the ball. The reserve loose forward is excellent at both of those things and broke off a long, rambling run to seal the final.

“He did that a few times this year,” said Eaton. Butler will be working on his rugby with a summer at the Western Province International Rugby Institute program in Cape Town, South Africa this year. He, despite being a reserve player, is perhaps the player with the highest ceiling on the team.

“That rugby experience and the rugby culture will be so beneficial for him,” said Eaton. “The culture is a huge part of it all. We appreciate and love the guys we have. But when they graduate we have to focus on the guys we have coming back. This is one, of the most, team-focused sports. We need to do so many things to be successful. And we knew if everyone just did a little bit more than last season, we’ve be OK.”

They were more than OK. They were champions.