Huns Players, Management Talk Winning And The Future
The key story for the Huns was how the program as a whole had to create a cohesive team on the field while also building a new professional structure that included bringing in new players.
For captain Lomani Tongotongo, team unity was a crucial aspect of getting to the Men's Division I National Championship final and coming back from two deficits to beat NYAC 27-23 on June 3.
"We had some ups and downs… just trying to get the team to gel together, it took a while," Tongotongo said. "But we eventually got there. It was just getting to know each other. Having new guys come in and having the old guys as well, it was just getting know each other on the field and off the field and becoming brothers."
That sense of unity was important as the team worked its way through a difficult playoff series that included SFGG, Belmont Shore, and, finally, NYAC. And it was in the final that the Huns fell behind twice. Tongotongo said his players responded well.
"We were pretty calm about it," Tongotongo said. "I just told the boys that the season comes down to the last 10 minutes, and if you really want to win it, you've got to put your body on the line."
Among the key performers was flyhalf Timothee Guillimin, who kicked some crucial goals in the final -- scoring 12 points. The Frenchman was typically understated about his contributions.
"It's my job," Guillimin said. "Mason Pedersen his job is the ruck and the scrum and everything. My job is to drive the team and kick for the posts. The team do their job, score the try, and I just try to do mine."
Pedersen, who is one of the young additions to the team, was a monster at prop and also a bit of a goofball.
"I just get really excited for everything, every day going out to practice [I] scream, yell, have fun," Pedersen said. "It's a great time to be playing rugby in the U.S."
Also in the studio was Huns head coach Eugene Eloff and GM Thierry Daupin. The two have been a big part of getting the club moving in a new direction.
"It was not very difficult to get this magic going and get the happy mix," Eloff said. "I saw indivuduals with a lot of potential but not the abilities, skill levels, yet. The biggest change we had to make was to change the culture. There was the perception that this was just a social club… but we started with hard work, and when you work hard and work towards goals and everyone buys into it, it's not that difficult."
Eloff said this was the quickest cultural turnaround he'd seen in a team and the most rewarding experience for him as a coach. Becoming a professional team wasn't so much about money as it was about attitude.
"You can be on an amateur club, but you as an athlete can be professional," Eloff said.
Daupin had the vision that this would happen, but he was asked if he could imagine it all happening so quickly. The GM said, "Yes."
"I think I was the only crazy guy that was believing that we could do it," he said. "I had the chance to play in Europe and be at the beginning of professional rugby in France, and it's not just about the players. People think, 'Oh, I will bring all this talent and players and make it happen,' and it's not true. We need to go farther… we need to build a strategy to be there for the next 10 years. To build a strategy, we need to have the right people in the right place."