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New men's club rugby coach looks to bring competitive spirit

The UNC rugby team lost a scrummage to regain possession of the ball at the men’s rugby game against NC State on Friday, Sep. 22, 2023, at Hooker Fields, Chapel Hill. UNC lost 39-7.

Joey Rasmus Jr. originally started what would soon become his lifelong passion on a whim. 

While training for a decathlon walk-on position for UNC’s track and field team, the UNC alumnus tore a ligament in his knee. With his motions limited due to his injury, Rasmus began to fall in love with rugby. The sport offered the ability to keep him in shape without reaggravating his injury. As he recovered, Rasmus was recruited by the UNC rugby team. 

It was here that Rasmus fell in love with rugby and there was no turning back. He never thought that rugby would have such an effect on his life.

“It's literally taken me to the other side of the world, and it's become my career,” Rasmus said. “It's become my community as well. So really, really special this club, in terms of my own personal journey.”

Rasmus was officially hired as the new head coach of the North Carolina men’s club rugby team in May. Rasmus is an alumnus of UNC, graduating in 2014, and a former member of the UNC rugby team. After graduating, he played in Australia in the Brisbane Premiership for the West Bulldogs. Rasmus has made waves since he started coaching rugby at the University of Illinois in 2019. Under Rasmus, the Illini attained its first top-25 ranking in the program's history.

With Rasmus taking the reins, he plans to create a fun and competitive environment that allows all members to develop their rugby and overall physical skills. Additionally, he cites his time overseas as a pivotal factor in his development as a player and coach.

“I feel like in overseas, a lot of it's just the sport is always part of your life,” Rasmus said. “And that's kind of how they organize the clubs, and if the opportunity comes knocking when you're 32 or something like that because you keep playing [the] sport through the club system, it might happen.” 

Rasmus has decided to implement two distinct pathways for members of the UNC rugby team. He will offer an optional five-days-a-week high-performance training for those wanting an experience similar to a varsity sport. The coaching staff will create a comprehensive nutrition and workout plan for all athletes who opt-in

Students new to the club or those who don’t want to commit to the five-day schedule can remain on the original two-day schedule. The diversity in training options will allow anyone who wants to pursue playing rugby an equal opportunity to do so.

Before his full-time appointment, Rasmus supported his alma mater through guest coaching sessions late last season. According to sophomore inside center Benji Garland, his impact has already been felt. 

“Joey has already brought a lot to the team,” Garland said. “This spring season, he came to run a few practices and they were super effective. At nationals, it was pretty clear that his drills transferred to the field too. I also think he’ll help us establish a more defined team culture. With more practice and some more team accountability, he’ll definitely make it more of a team and less of a club.”

In 2023, the UNC rugby’s seven-on-seven squad achieved a sixth-place finish in its division during the National Collegiate Rugby Championship. With this placement, the team has earned the three-seed in the Eastern Region for the upcoming DI Club season. The aspect of Rasmus and what he will bring to the program has players, fans and alumni extremely excited for the upcoming season. 

Junior James McLoughlin — who also serves as the club president — shares this same excitement for the club’s future. 

“Even though I'm not gonna see [the] full fruition of what's happening now, down the line five [to] 10 years, [I’m] looking forward to UNC becoming someone who's continuously competing for a national championship,” McLoughlin said

Rasmus shared this same sentiment citing that the support he has received from all avenues has been incredible.

“It really was kind of a really pleasant surprise to see how great the community was among the players and everyone who is in a position around the players to support them," Rasmus said

The Tar Heels are looking to build on their promising conclusion from last season, and with Rasmus at the helm, the team and support staff believe they are in a better position than ever before.

@dthsports |

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