WEST POINT, N.Y. – In July, when scores of college grads spiff up their resumes in preparation for their first dip in the cold waters of professional life, West Point senior Karl Crist will be in the cockpit of a combat helicopter as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
But before then, Crist and his West Point Rugby brethren will make a run at a D1A National Championship after going undefeated in the East Conference and beating sworn rivals Navy 28-26 in an out of conference thriller.
Win or lose, the teammates he takes the field with are much more than goodtime college buddies.
“On the team, there aren’t many players with previous rugby experience, but we gravitated to the intensity and challenge of rugby. We’re all extremely competitive and we push each other,” Crist said.
Challenge and opportunity are what drew Crist to West Point. He initially didn’t get accepted and instead the Grand Rapids, Mich., native went to the University of Michigan for a year.
Crist reapplied to West Point and got in the second time around. Initially, the 210 lbs., 6’2” former quarterback hoped to walk on to Army’s football team, but a coaching shake-up found him lost in the shuffle.
He found his way to the rugby team though and after four years starting at outside center for West Point, has never looked back.
West Point rugby players go through four years of balancing the responsibilities of being a student-athlete with the duties of being a West Point cadet. It’s career training of sorts; being able to exert yourself mentally and physically day in and day out, working with a team, and achieving goals as a unit.
Here is what a Karl’s daily schedule looks like:
0600 – Wake up*
0700 – Breakfast formation
0730 – Classes start (Four classes back-to-back)
1155 – Morning classes end
1205 – Lunch formation
1250 – Dean/Commandant’s Hour (This varies from day to day, but can be a lecture, a guest speaker, or company activities)
1355 – Last class of the day starts
1450 – Class ends
1515 – Bus to practice departs
1530 – Rugby training starts
1800 – Rugby training ends
1800 – 1930 – Dinner
2000 – 2400 – Homework (sometimes later if a project or test is coming up)
*This is after the start of the season. In the early stages of the season, an 0530 workout is added.
Rugby alumni events at West Point are a celebration of brotherhood above all else.
“The relationships we build on this team are really meaningful…When old grads come back, you can see, they are all still brothers," Crist said.
All of the seniors at West Point have completed “branch selection,” the process of determining where and how they will spend the next four years of their life (at least).
Crist selected aviation and will become a combat helicopter pilot, posting in July. His teammates will go their own ways, but will forever be part of the Army rugby fraternity.
“In four years, not many of us will be playing rugby, but we may be in combat, in theater. We’ll look around us and see our rugby brothers.”
Army is the #1 seed out of the East and will host Life University (Mid-South #2) in the quarterfinals. Kickoff is 1 p.m. ET on Saturday April 27.
Photos courtesy of Cordell Hoffer.