Steve Gray loved football as a kid but weighed just 95 pounds in high school and was too small to make the team. So he wrestled instead. Then he went to the University of Arizona on a golf scholarship but admits that he was a “marginal” player.
One day in 1969, when he was a college senior, he saw a notice in the student newspaper: The new rugby club team on campus was looking for players.
“I really had no idea about rugby,” he says. “I thought they played with sticks, like lacrosse.”
Fast forward to June 2016, and Gray – a professor of recreation, parks, and tourism administration at Sacramento State – was inducted into the U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame in Philadelphia.
He retired as a player in the mid-1990s after 35 years on the back line.
“I played in some old boys’ games when I got into my 50s, but the other guys were in their 30s,” he says. “Being smaller and quick, I used to be able to avoid everybody, but I slowed down as I got older. It wasn’t as much fun when they could catch me.”
As a player and coach, Gray was:
- A member of the U.S. Eagles 15s in 1976, the first such team since the 1920s.
- Captain of the first Eagles 7s team, which played in Hong Kong, before 50,000 rugby fans, in 1980.
- Captain and player on U.S. national teams during the 1970s and ’80s.
- A member of the overseas international team that competed in Wales during its 1981 Centenary Season Series.
- Coach of the Los Angeles Rugby Club, as well as club teams at UCLA, San Diego State (the 1987 national 15s champ), UC Davis, and Sacramento State.
Today, Gray is a consultant for U.S. Rugby and travels around the country to certify coaches, and he trains CrossFit athletes at CrossFit Analog. He twice has qualified for the CrossFit Games in the 60-plus division.
Rugby always will be his passion.
“The British mentality is that rugby is a hooligans’ game played by gentlemen, whereas soccer is a gentlemen’s game played by hooligans,” Gray says. “Royalty sent their children to private schools like Eton where they played rugby, which would prepare them to defend and extend the British Empire.
“They felt your character was established on the rugby field. No question that rugby was good for me.” – Dixie Reid