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April 20, 2013

Blazing the rugby trail

Newburyport natives start college program at Merrimack

When he arrived at Merrimack College as a freshman three years ago, Newburyport High Class of 2010 graduate Jon Gurczak wasn’t quite sure how he wanted to fill his off hours. A veteran of the Clippers football, track and baseball programs, he knew he wanted to play something, but time was a factor as well.

“I was interested in trying out for football,” said Gurczak. “But it was kind of demanding with all of the practices. In rugby, you have only two practices a week and one game on the weekend. And with my major, it just kind of worked out.”

The electrical engineering major found a different kind of football, and has become a prop and flanker for the Warriors club rugby team. He also serves as the team’s president.

“The best way (rugby) was described to me is, it’s a cross-country race to a wrestling match,” said Gurczak, who also plays with Amesbury’s Greg Lingley. “It’s like Kill the Man with the Ball but a little bit more organized than that.”

A former offensive lineman for the Clippers, the 5-foot-9, 215-pound Gurczak wasn’t quite sure what to expect on the field when he started playing rugby.

“Before Merrimack, I had only watched a game or two on TV,” said Gurczak. “And when I got there, it was kind of overwhelming. It was completely different from what I thought it would be. In rugby, everyone gets to touch the ball. Instead of big guys blocking and not getting any glory, the big guys can get some glory too.”

It’s that inclusiveness, Gurczak says that he enjoys the most.

“We have guys of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds,” said Gurczak. “Soccer players try out, guys you’ve never even played any sports try out. There’s just kind of a loose, fun atmosphere. But it’s still competitive at the same time.”

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