COLUMBIA — The Boone County Outlaws men's rugby team accepts everyone, but they are looking for special traits.
The club is open to adults of any age. College sophomores play with fathers whose children will attend college in a couple of years. Despite the variety of players, there is the constant that everyone must play physical and be aggressive.
"If you're not willing to hit and be hit, then this game is not for you," said Richard Ross, the Outlaws head coach.
Ross was a founding member of the team when it first formed in 1980, but by 2007 it had disbanded. This year, two small teams decided to combine and asked Ross to be their coach, and the Outlaws were reborn.
Outlaws captain Dan Matthew said the team does not turn anyone away and that an individual’s body type is not a limiting factor.
“We’re always happy to have new guys come out and practice with us,” Matthew said. “There is no commitment from the start and no pressure.”
The key to being a good rugby player is having a tenacious attitude to keep playing even when hurt.
Charles Rudkin, 36, said that lots of guys will come out and try rugby, but the real sign that shows if they're up for the challenge is if they keep coming back.
This is by no means a professional rugby team. It is more of a commitment among peers that share a similar interest. Members of the Outlaws play rugby every Saturday, but, come Monday they will be back at their everyday jobs.
Rudkin trades in his cleats for business attire during the week. He works for MU Health Care in the office of graduate medical education.
Unfortunately, Rudkin will not be playing any more rugby this fall. He is on crutches after breaking his ankle in an Outlaws game. He is set to be in a cast and then a walking boot for 12 weeks.
“Yeah, it’s a little brutal sometimes, but it’s a lot of fun,” Matthew said.
Jordyn Boyles, who is in charge of marketing for the team, said that there is usually one concussion or foot injury during each game. She said that while there is no trainer at Outlaws games, at least one of the players, a physical therapist, has medical knowledge.
Before his injury, Rudkin said he would lift weights three times a week and then do two days of cardio work to prepare for his weekly rugby game.
Rudkin said it that his broken ankle has been a burden because he has a 20-month-old daughter, and now his wife has to do all of the work around the house. He has thought about quitting rugby but doesn’t see the need to worry about that decision until he is back on his feet.
Despite the physical toll, many members of the Outlaws stay with the sport because of the camaraderie shared by what Boyles calls "the brotherhood."
Rudkin, a former Marine, said that his aggression from his military training comes out and plays a key role in dealing with the pain during rugby games.
“They take away the flight thought of a fight-or-flight scenario,” Rudkin said.
Many of the Outlaws have been associated with the military.
Matt St. John, a second lieutenant in the Marines, has a buzzed haircut and the sculpted cut of a G.I. Joe figure. He said he likes to use his body to make plays, push people around and be a ball hawk on the field.
“It’s the best sport out there,” St. John said. “Any aggression, stress or frustration you have built up during the week, you can let it out on the rugby pitch.”
St. John played has played his last game with the Outlaws, though. He was given a position at a base in Quantico, Va.
Calling it an addiction, he said he hopes to continue to play rugby if he is allowed.