The University of North Florida rugby football club, the Deadbirds, placed second in a national sevens tournament June 1-2, held by the National Small College Rugby Organization in Philadelphia, Pa.
Eight schools were invited to participate after they won regional tournaments. The teams played three opponents, and four were picked by their records to be in the semi-finals.
The Deadbirds made the semi-finals after going to 2-1, with the lone loss being to Occidental College. They played New England College, which was the only team to go undefeated through that point of the tournament. The game was extremely close and was won on a last-second penalty drop kick. The Deadbirds won 15-14 in a grueling match.
In the finals against Occidental College, the Deadbirds scored first, but Occidental was too fast and talented. They took the lead and controlled the pace of the game until UNF scored two tries late in the game, but it was too late. Occidental won the game 28-15.
The Deadbirds were not disheartened by the loss because they knew how good Occidental was.
“There was definitely some wear-and-tear on our team, but also their coach was a USA Sevens Eagles player back in the day,” Deadbirds captain Steven Krueger said. “That definitely didn’t help our chances. They knew the game better than we did.”
Krueger said the Deadbirds were only practicing twice a week, sometimes only once, before they entered the qualifying tournament.
"I’m extremely proud,” Krueger said. “It was good going from getting 14 guys together to run around and play rugby, not to run drills, to going to second-place in the nation.”
Krueger said the 13-hour trip to Philadelphia was worth it for the Deadbirds and they wouldn’t have been able to make it without the help of their sponsors, Gate Petroleum Company and Republic Services.
Krueger also urged people to attend UNF Deadbirds games later this year when the season starts. He promised the team has big things planned.