The Glendale Raptors have returned from their brief holiday break, hitting the ground running in preparation for the 2019 Major League Rugby Season, which kicks off with preseason games against the San Diego Legion on January 13 and the Houston SaberCats on January 19.
With very little time in 2019 to get everyone integrated, Raptors head coach David Williams is getting right back at it with two-a-day trainings and his strength and conditioning regimen that has become typical of this professional program.
“Right now, we are interested in seeing how our new additions mesh with the current player pool,” Williams said. “And seeing who among the new guys will step up into a leadership role. A large portion of our team trained together during the off-season, but as we welcome in our remaining part time players, in addition to some of the new professional players from overseas, we are hoping to see our team come together in its entirety.”
One of the new recruits from overseas that joined the Raptors during the holiday break was New Zealand-born back-three talent, Dylan Takaito Simpson. Simpson, a former Australian Under-20’s and Australian Sevens representative who also played professional rugby in Italy and Scotland, will be aiming to showcase his impressive skillset here in the U.S. on the Major League Rugby stage.
Another international player recently signed to the Glendale side is flyhalf Robbie Petzer. Petzer, at just 22-years-old, has seen his share of success back in South Africa, representing the Northern Free State Griffons in the 2016 U-20 Provincial Championships, scoring an impressive 111 points. He was then named to the Griffons senior side in 2017 and by the second half of the season had joined the Free State Cheetahs, where Petzer found himself called up to play in the Cheetahs’ Pro14, starting their second match and scoring eight points in his team’s victory against Munster. In 2018, he moved to George to play for the SWD Eagles and now finds himself moving stateside to play with the Glendale Raptors.
While the Raptors actively recruit talent into Glendale year-round, the newly professional club also has both domestic and international players seeking the Raptors out. In alignment with the MLR mission, the Raptors have focused primarily on U.S. player development, with several new American players added to their team for 2019.
Wheeling Jesuit University alumnus, Maxwell Lum, will see his first official season in the MLR. Lum was working in construction in North Carolina when he put his career on hold and joined Glendale this past fall. Another American who is putting it all on the line for a chance to prove his worth in this new professional era is former Utah All-American Chad Gough, who moved his young family out to Colorado after attending September’s development camp in Glendale. Gough will no doubt look to give fellow hooker and the Raptors 2018 MVP, Zach Fenoglio, a run for the starting spot at hooker.
Born and raised in Denver, Colo., Fenoglio confirmed his intent to play another season with the Raptors, while still working full time in the medical field. Although Fenoglio took the fall season off to focus on his career, he has recently returned to part time trainings as well.
Rounding out the hooker specialists for the Raptors is another Colorado native, James DelBozque, who has returned to play another season with Glendale, signing an associate player contract and adding some depth to this demanding position.
Moving along to the second row, recently capped U.S. Eagle Brendan Daly just signed on as a pivotal addition to the Raptors pool. An All-American from the University of California - Berkeley, Daly, who hails from San Francisco, will add experience and versatility to the lock position.
The Raptors confirmed more local additions to their pack with veteran Glendale players Casey Rock and Devin Vaughter both committed to play a second season with the professional side. Recent BYU graduate and Colorado native Jonathan Layne along with Clemson graduate and recent Vail Rugby player Jason Damm proved they were up for the challenge in the off-season and will add their names to the Raptors back row depth chart in 2019
On the back line, the Raptors have also brought in several of their Under-23 Academy players this year. Campbell Johnstone came to Glendale from Mount Saint Mary’s University and the USA Under-20s. Johnstone showed coaches he was ready to step up to pros during the off-season exhibition matches and now he looks to get his first regular season match under his belt, lining up for the Raptors in either the wing or full back position.
Mateo Gadsden, Siale Maka and Celester Asuega have all been signed to associate player contracts with the Raptors after initially coming into the program through the Academy. Colin Gregory, another product of the Clemson Rugby Club, is also a new part-time player looking to earn a regular spot on the match day roster.
Veteran Raptors Nick Johnson and John Ryberg look to add their talent and experience in the back line. Both Johnson and Ryberg have recently committed to train full time with the professional side and will no doubt be looked to by the younger players to lead the way.
The Glendale Raptors have now signed a vast majority of their players to contracts for the 2019 season. There are, however, still a few players expecting to come on board later this month, and the coaches will always continue to look at players from Division 1 and their Raptors Academy program throughout the season, as well
Story via: Glendale Raptors