2019 D1A College Semifinal: Life vs. Lindenwood

MLR Needs A Rookie of The Year Award: Here's Our Shortlist

MLR Needs A Rookie of The Year Award: Here's Our Shortlist

The MLR needs a Rookie of the Year award and Wesley White, Harley Wheeler, Jack Iscaro, and Mitch Wilson should be on it.

Sep 16, 2019 by Austin Willis

Major League Rugby is missing out on a publicity opportunity that the core four American sports take advantage of yearly: the Rookie of the Year award.

The Rookie of the Year award race draws serious buzz in the NBA and NFL as fans and pundits make the case for the league’s up-and-coming stars.

Following the first two seasons of Major League Rugby, there were plenty of awards given out: from Player of the Year, First- and Second-XV down to Coach of the Year. For the most part the selections were spot on, but it's time for the league to add the Rookie of the Year award.

Who Would've Been 2019 ROY?

Last season NOLA Gold’s Nick Feakes staked his claim for the Rookie of the Year award in a hat-trick performance in the snow in Week Six.

How about a less flashy pick: RUNY’s Alex MacDonald. A season-long starter in the engine room for one of the best forward packs in the MLR, MacDonald had 137 tackles and 15 lineout takes playing alongside capped Eagle Nate Brakeley.

The last pick is the guy who made the biggest impact in the shortest time. 

Deion Mikesell was shipped off to the Clermont Academy program ahead of his rookie season in the MLR. Upon returning, Mikesell signed on with the Sabercats, and while he didn’t get anywhere near a full season to rack up stats like the last two guys on this list, Mikesell immediately made an impact scoring tries and crunching folks in highlight-worthy tackles. Had the Rookie of the Year award existed, Mikesell would’ve certainly been a guy that the fans could have made an extrapolated argument for ROY in 2018.

2020 Rookie of The Year Prospects

Year three is the perfect time to get the Rookie of The Year started. With three more expansion teams there’s going to be a massive influx of young stars entering professionalism for the first time.

RugbyATL: Harley Wheeler (Center/Wing)

You just can’t leave Harley Wheeler off the list. Wheeler dominated at Life University by earning himself the Scholz Award winner as the best collegiate rugby player. His hat-trick against Cal in the 2018 D1A National Championship was one of the great collegiate performances of all time.

Wheeler just represented the United States in Lima, Peru, for the Pan-Am Games, where he made the most of his opportunities and helped the USA to the bronze medal. Wheeler is an angry ball carrier and just as ferocious in defense.

Some expected Harley Wheeler would move back to wing upon entering the MLR, but Wheeler recently put on a fair bit of muscle this summer and looks ready to defend in the midfield.

Wheeler’s resume would give him a leg up in the Rookie of the Year race, but he’ll have to go out there and perform.

DC Old Glory: Jack Iscaro (Prop)

Iscaro came out of Gonzaga High School, a premier high school rugby program and straight into another at Cal Berkeley. At Cal, Iscaro faced some of the best domestic props in the country in Chance Wenglewski and Julian Montes. Before the inaugural match for DC Old Glory, Iscaro is off to Glasgow on a short-term training contract to fine-tune his prop skills in a PRO14 environment. Iscaro is one of the first players to capitalize on Old Glory’s partnership with Scotland Rugby Union, an advantage he has over other rookie’s across the league.

Props don’t get a ton of recognition, but Iscaro is one that demands it. He’ll need more size to make his way up the ranks of MLR props, but Rookie of the Year is in reach.

Austin Herd: Wesley White (Backrow)

At Lindenwood, Wesley White was just too big for the fast guys and too fast for the big guys, which became very apparent in the Collegiate 7s National Championships (Wes White won three of them, two CRCs, and a couple of MVP trophies.)

By the end of White’s time at Lindenwood, it just looked like he was a man playing among boys.

In the MLR he’ll be a man playing among men. The bigger and faster men can look past White’s incredible size and speed but what they’ll soon find is an extraordinarily well-positioned No. 8. 

Like most MLR forwards he works hard on defense and is a menace at the breakdown, but what makes him special is that he’s always around the play. He’ll range back and help the back three cover a kick. He’ll come in and sack a lineout or bust up a quick tap. Wesley White will rack up carries for himself by finding ways to get the ball in his hands.

New England Free Jacks: Mitch Wilson (Fullback/Flyhalf)

Mitch Wilson’s impact on the Life University program kind of went under the radar these last few years. Well, not under the radar enough to keep him from two-time All-American selection, but a Rookie of the Year award could really solidify what kind of player Mitch Wilson will be.

Wilson’s playmaking ability at Life University was often overshadowed by the hype surrounding the point-scoring machines Harley Wheeler, Austin White, Damen Torres, and Duncan Van Schalkwyk. 

All American Midfield Wilson And Lopeti

Go back and watch those matches and you’ll find Mitch Wilson often on the giving end of a lot of those highlight plays.

Mitch Wilson was best under pressure and often relied on to get the Running Eagles out of trouble. Wilson played inside center for a time at Life, but in professional rugby he’ll more than likely settle in at fullback where his boot will give the Free Jacks an advantage in the territorial battle. 

That will also allow him to slot into the attack wherever he sees space, and then Wilson will have more opportunities to make an impact alongside clever setup men Ollie Engelhart and Tadgh Leader.

The MLR doesn't have a rookie of the year award, but they should. The best leagues in the world create buzz around their up-and-coming stars, why not the MLR?