Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Kent State Takes the Stage Against BGSU at Browns' Halftime

Every athlete, no matter what the sport is, wants to put their skills on display on a grand stage. Some are lucky enough to play at a professional or international level, while others may have their time in a prestigious tournament put on TV or streamed online. For Keegan Gillilan, the President of Kent State University's men's rugby club, he and his teammates get to put on a show at FirstEnergy Stadium during the halftime break of a preseason Cleveland Browns game. They will take on the Bowling Green State University Men's Rugby Team in a sevens match during the event.

"The event came about through communication with Roger Mazzarella. The Browns were looking to get a more local 'home' team for the event, so it was agreed upon that Kent State University [would] be prioritized as a potential opponent for BGSU. "Kent State was offered the opportunity to face BGSU in a sevens match that happened to be played during a halftime show for the Cleveland Browns. Obviously, we couldn't turn down this incredible chance to challenge ourselves in a style of play our team is highly unfamiliar with."

On paper the Falcons are definite favorites to win the match. Just this past season the team from Bowling Green took the Consolation Championship at the National Collegiate Sevens Championship, beating Wisconsin, Texas State University and North Texas in the process. The men from Kent State aren't slouches either. Though most of the team's experience is in the fill 15s version of the game, Gillilan and his teammates have some sevens experience as well. According to Gillilan, he began his rugby career playing sevens in Canton. He has now spent a few summers with the men's club as well as some other teams. Like Gillilan, a number of his teammates have played sevens with other teams in the area but the test will be to see how they come together as a unit on Thursday.

Gillilan knows he and his team have a large task ahead of them in trying to topple Bowling Green. Despite being underdogs, the team has been putting together a game plan that will hopefully get them a victory.

"With the help of our recently appointed Director of Rugby, Jeff Horton, we have established a group of qualified coaches to fine-tune our basic rugby skills and maximize on our fitness," Gillilan said. "Historically, BGSU has been a well-known name in the rugby community and we have been working to implement a game plan that will help control the tempo of the match and cater to the strengths of our athletes."

According to Gillilan, that game plan involves a "blood-for-blood" style that combines speed and athleticism with hard-hitting action. That action will hinge on the quickness of the Kent players, especially Darius Carlton, Sobhit Haribhakti and Zach Reimer. His runners enjoy the open space that sevens provides and they plan to translate space into points.

"Player-to-player, Kent State has always had the best athletes on the field," Gillilan said. "The only question is: What wins on the 13th, athleticism or experience?"

During the halftime match, the men from Kent State and Bowling Green will go at each other hammer and tong to put on a quality show for the hometown crowd and get a win but in the big picture this event should be a mutually beneficial experience for both teams and the sport of rugby in general.

"Our guys have already had a huge boost in morale," Gillilan said. "They will walk away with an eye-opening experience regardless of the score, and the university will need to take notice if we play at FirstEnergy Stadium. I can't imagine that we are the first college club to play during the halftime show of an NFL game. If we are, then hopefully the trend continues."

Gillilan credits Roger Mazzarella, the BGSU team's director of rugby, for this opportunity. Mazzarella coordinated with the Browns to make the event possible and has helped Kent transition into Division I.

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