Austin White might just have the best rugby résumé of any young player in the United States and it was the birth of his twins that set his rugby career in motion.
White’s high school football career was in the books and he had a few months before preseason camp was set to begin at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. His buddy came to him with the idea of playing rugby with the local men’s club.
“I thought I’d check it out since I didn’t have anything else to do until graduation, and I fell in love with it right then,” said White.
Two seasons into his college football career his twins were born, so he took a year-and-a-half off of school in order to make money to support his family. Back home, he went back out to rugby practice with the Tulsa men’s club.
His athletic ability was apparent from the start and after only a few months into the game he decided to have a go at the Atavus Player Identification Camp.
White’s performance in the combine-style athletic testing wowed the coaches, and his skill and performance under pressure earned White an invitation to the 10-day Atavus Resident Camp in Dodgertown, FL.
The Atavus coaches broke out the dreaded Yo-Yo test on day one in Dodgertown and White went to work.
The Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test was developed by Danish Physiologist Jens Bangsbo. It's a never-ending endurance test designed to break the physical and mental will of its participants.
One by one participants began failing, while White seemed to have just found his stride. Thirty minutes into the test the camp participants and coaches gathered around White as he was not only the last man standing, but he hadn’t even used his ‘warning miss’ —the Mulligan you get when you aren't ready to go at the whistle.
A score of 18.5 caught the attention of Atavus selectors and Scott Lawrence.
White was one of four players selected from the camp to represent Atavus 7s in RugbyTown 7s. Better, he sat down with Scott Lawrence and discussed the idea of attending Life University.
“We did all the math and the eligibility requests because I was an older guy. While it was a risk it was one I was willing to take, and it worked out,” said White.
He packed up a U-haul and took his young family east to a chiropractic school of 2,700 students in Marietta, GA.
“Compared to the other guys it was an easier transition in [strength and conditioning] aspect, but harder because I was a blank slate and had a lot more to learn about the game than others.”
White locked down a starting spot on the wing for Life, but his toughest test would come off the field.
“With rugby, school, and work it’s been tough to get all the time I want with them, but there’s nothing like having kids,” said White. “I just try to make them proud.”
White gets excited when talking about his kids being around the team. “They always want to get on the field and run around with us,” said White. “They love the guys and it’s been so cool watching them grow up around the guys in that family environment.”
In 2018, the Running Eagles went on a playoff run in which they dismantled some of D1A’s best programs: Central Washington, Army, and Lindenwood.
In the national championship final against Cal, White showed off his old wide-receiver hands and received a chip kick at full sprint for the first try of the match. Life went on to beat Cal 60-5 in a statement win for the Life program and a changing of the guard in D1A rugby.
Life immediately reloaded from their 15s run and sent a sevens squad to Philadelphia for the College Rugby Championships 7s (CRCs). While Life fell short of the title, White’s athletic ability was broadcast nationally on NBC. The young speedster earned an opportunity with the USA Falcons on their tour to Uruguay for the Sudamerica 7s tournament.
“Throwing on that USA jersey is a memory that I never want to leave my head, playing for your country is just unbelievable,” said White.
Life Men’s Club
When White’s eligibility on the undergraduate squad came to an end he made the next step to the men’s club program.
“It’s just different, the players are bigger across the board in men’s rugby, but D1A is so competitive week in and week out,” said White. “The transition to the team was easy because we run identical systems.”
With a lack of D1 competition in the South, Life competes in the American Rugby Premiership against the Division 1 teams: Old Blue (New York), New York Athletic Club, and Mystic River (Malden, MA).
After an ARP title victory over Old Blue, Life advanced to the round of four where they would face the Chicago Lions.
Against the Lions, White again scored the first try of the match and then another for good measure. After an 80-minute battle the Running Eagles punched their ticket to the National Championship.
In the national final the Running Eagles took on the Western Champions Austin Blacks in the Fortress Obetz, in Ohio.
“Spirits were high before the match and the boys locked in,” said White. “It was a fight that we were up for and it came down to that last kick.”
The Running Eagles were up 18-13 when the Life fullback Sam Cowley sent a grubber toward the try line. Austin White’s hustle put the Blacks fullback under pressure. The ball took a funny bounce and White made a sudden change of course before diving on the ball for a try.
The Running Eagles and the Blacks traded blows for the remainder of the match and in the end, it was the fullback Sam Cowley that kicked the national-championship-winning kick for Life, 29-28.
The Next Chapter
RugbyATL hosted a player signing day in which Austin White and many of his Life undergraduate and men’s club teammates became the first batch of signings for the MLR expansion franchise.
“I’m just super excited to play with the boys, just guys I’ve built relationships with the last couple years and we’re all getting a chance to move up together,” said White.
RugbyATL will be coached by none other than Scott Lawrence.
“He took a chance on me to bring me out to Life, and took another chance on me with RugbyATL,” said White. “He’s a coach that you want to play for and give him your best. He’s made me a better player and a better man.”
Austin White has a bright future ahead of him in rugby and as a father. His twins turn four in September and the 2020 MLR season kicks off in January.
“I’m just excited to take my game to the next level and pursue my passion for the game, but also focus on becoming a better man and being a servant to the game,” said White.
After that? Maybe there are more dreams to chase. White dreams to one day wear the USA jersey with his kids in the stands.