By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
When you play high school football for four years, it can be difficult to simply let that competitive fire fade away on graduation day. Luckily for Nick Frantz, a 2016 graduate of Cedar Creek, he got involved with the Cape Storm rugby team during his junior year, and now has an outlet for his athletic fervor with the parent club in men’s rugby, the Jersey Shore Sharks.
“I actually saw an ad in the paper and talked about it with my mom,” Frantz said of how he initially got involved with rugby. “Any kind of physical sport appeals to me, so I figured I would give it a shot. I had no idea what I was doing, honestly. It’s not really a mainstream sport. I’m still kind of learning how everything works. Now that I’m with the men’s team, they are teaching me more and more about the fundamentals.”
Frantz was an outstanding linebacker for Cedar Creek and helped lead the Pirates to their first state championship last December. He didn’t get to play in the championship game against West Deptford because he broke his ankle during the playoffs, and spent last spring watching the Cape Storm from the sidelines while he healed up. But he was back in action this fall while attending Stockton University. He said that while rugby and football are both physical sports, there are some differences.
“What was different for me at first was you can’t be in front of the ball carrier. There’s no blocking at all, it’s just man-on-man, so that took a little while to get used to,” Frantz said. “Learning to tackle well took some getting used to as well. My first season playing rugby, I got a ton of high-tackle penalties. In rugby, you’re taught to keep your head out of it at all costs because, obviously, you don’t have a helmet on. Rugby tackling, I compare it more to wrestling. It’s all about leverage more than anything. It’s almost like a double-leg takedown.
“My first season was a little rough because, like I said, I got a bunch of high-tackle penalties. A high tackle is anything above the shoulders and I was getting called for that a lot. But, I’m getting a lot better at it now that I’m getting used to it. I realized that if I do the rugby style you can hit guys a lot harder than if you just go up high. It wasn’t easy to learn (the technique) but it’s mostly mental. You just have to keep repeating your form until it’s instinct.”
Frantz is one of many high school football players who don’t go on to play college football, and he said rugby is the perfect outlet for the kind of competition he was used to while playing for the Pirates. He also sees it as a new athletic challenge.
“In a way (it’s an extension of football). For me, it’s more of a new thing, and it’s been great so far. I actually get to carry the ball rather than just playing linebacker and offensive line,” Frantz said. “In my career I’ve scored two tries.”
Frantz said he has been impressed with the competition. As a nearly 19-year-old, the Galloway resident now is going up against guys in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
“It’s a pretty big jump from the high school level to the men’s club. The main difference is everyone knows what they are doing and there are a lot less mistakes. It’s a much faster pace, as well. They aren’t going to cut you any slack. You have to get up to speed pretty quickly,” Frantz said.
Frantz said he has taken a liking to the rugby lifestyle, as well. A big part of rugby is being a rough-and-tumble guy, but also being a good sportsman. After rugby matches, the home team invites the visitors to a social gathering that includes food, song and stories of players and games past. It’s as much a social club as an athletic team.
“I actually am growing out a beard at the moment,” Frantz said. “It’s pretty interesting to me, that dynamic. In football, you hated each other on and off the field, pretty much. Especially when it came to rivalries. In rugby, everything is on the field. They play nasty and violently, but there is a lot less trash talking than there is in football, and after the games, everyone is cool with each other.”
Frantz said he could see himself playing rugby for decades to come, as long as his body can keep taking the pounding every Saturday in the spring and fall.
“It’s something I’ll probably do for many more years, at least as long as my body can handle it,” Frantz said. “You get beat up pretty good. You get a lot of bumps and bruises, but it’s a mindset more than anything.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN