The idea of a student-athlete going from playing fun in club sports to playing professionally sounds like a pipe dream, but for former men’s rugby player Gareth Jones, it’s a reality. Last week, Jones signed with Young Munster, a rugby club in the Irish Rugby Football Union.
“I always thought it was a possibility,” Jones said.
The signing was a surprise to Director of Campus Recreation Steve Young, who has never seen a club athlete move on to play sports professionally.
“I wouldn’t say that there was a last time,” Young said. “Over the course of time, I can’t remember the last time someone went on to play professionally [after playing club sports], so it’s quite an accomplishment for Gareth.”
Jones graduated last spring after he led the rugby team to an appearance in the College Rugby Division II Championship last season, where they lost, 25-19, to Claremont College. From there, Jones planned to find a job, but then USA Rugby called. Jones was named to the All-American Collegiate team, comprised of Division-I and club rugby players, and he received the opportunity to play against various rugby teams in England.
“While playing for the All-American team, a few coaches got to see me play,” Jones said. “I actually know a player on [Young Munster], who got me a recommendation from a well-respected coach.”
When the All-American team ended its season, Jones was on his way to the Limerick, Ireland-based club, where he will be the only American on the team and will be living with two other players in a home near the team’s training facility. Young Munster acts as a Division-I affiliate to Munster of the Magners League. If Jones plays well for Young Munster, nicknamed the Bitter Cookies, he can move up to a more high-profile team.
“It’s a lot like minor league baseball,” Jones said.
Jones credits his success to his time spent with Campus Recreation and with the Owls.
“Club sports is awesome because it gave me a chance not only to play rugby with a bunch of really good players and two great coaches, but I was also able to kind of develop some leadership and management qualities in myself,” Jones said. “On and off the field, it was an awesome experience for me, and it pretty much made my four years.
“For people who play club sports, it’s as serious as you want to take it,” Jones added.
Young made note of Jones’ playing and leadership abilities.
“He was always very focused on what he was doing, whether it was playing the sport or managing the team and taking care of their organizational duties and responsibilities,” Young said. “Sometimes the best athlete becomes team president, but they may not be the best student in regards to organizational and leadership skills, and Gareth had a good mix of both.”
Jones, who graduated with a degree in sports and recreation and a minor in business management, still expressed interest in staying involved with the field he studied in. But for now, he’s focusing on making a good impression with Young Munster using the lessons learned from his time at Temple.
“Hopefully this gives me an opportunity to become a full-time professional,” Jones said. “I think students really have an awesome opportunity at Temple with all the facilities that they offer – and Campus Recreation, I can’t say enough about how much they helped me, not only in terms of becoming a better rugby player, but off the field, they helped me develop into the person I am now.”
Brian Dzenis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.