Other Sports

A special homecoming for Louis Stanfill of USA Rugby Eagles

Louis Stanfill, who played at Jesuit High School, is tackled by Russia's Yury Kushnarev during a Rugby World Cup game in New Zealand in 2011.
Louis Stanfill, who played at Jesuit High School, is tackled by Russia's Yury Kushnarev during a Rugby World Cup game in New Zealand in 2011. The Associated Press

As a member of the Sacramento County Sheriff Department’s Special Enforcement Detail team, Roger Stanfill worked and lived by a simple code: Whatever you do, give it your best.

That’s why he pulled his son, Louis, aside years ago after a youth baseball team in which watched his son jog to first base after getting a hit.

“Always sprint to first base,” father said to son.

“That was one of those things I take to every single training, every single match,” said Louis Stanfill. “If you’re going to do something, you do it as hard as you can and to the best of your ability no matter what sport you’re playing.”

Stanfill used this advance to make a career for himself, not on a baseball field, but on a rugby pitch.

At age 30, Stanfill will be playing in one of his last matches Fridayas a member of the USA Rugby Eagles against Japan at the Pacific Nations Cup at Bonney Field. He will be one of three Jesuit High School graduates playing for the Eagles, along with Blaine Scully, 27, and Eric Fry, 27.

“Playing in Sacramento for me is monumental,” Stanfill said this week. “We’re going to see a lot more events like this coming (here), so it means a lot to me, as someone a little bit older on the team who gets a second chance to do this in front of Sacramento. That we’re actually coming back here, I’m excited as can be.”

The Pacific Nations Cup consists of Fiji, Japan, Samoa, Tonga, Canada and the United States. The games are “test matches” in preparation for the Rugby World Cup that begins Sept.17. The teams , including the 16th-ranked United States, are in Tier 2 (ranked below the top 10).

Players will be competing for a spot on their nation’s 30-man roster for the World Cup.

Even though Stanfill has played in 51 test matches, second most on the team, and was on the U.S. World Cup team in 2007 and 2011, he is not guaranteed a spot on this year’s roster.

But according to Matt Eason, USA Rugby national panel referee coach, he’s far from a long shot.

“(Stanfill) is well-known and well-liked. He’s good in the locker room, he keeps the young guys’ heads on straight, (and) he keeps the old guys motivated,” said Eason, who played rugby at Sacramento State before becoming a referee. “Because of those attributes, there’s a very good chance that he will be one of the few people that will actually play in three World Cups.”

Stanfill’s baseball career was derailed as a freshman at Jesuit when he lost his glove. A friend invited him to play rugby, and he was hooked. Stanfill helped Jesuit become a national rugby powerhouse and led the Marauders to the national semifinals. He also played football and was The Sacramento Bee’s 2002 Defensive Player of the Year.

Stanfill played on Cal’s national championship teams from 2005 to 2008. As a professional, he has played in Australia, Italy and New York. He currently plays for the Seattle Saracens, the top-ranked rugby club in America.

Chris O’Brien, the Eagles’ kicking and special teams coach, said having a player like Stanfill is essential for the United States.

“Louis has been around a long time; he’s awesome for the team culture,” O’Brien said.

Stanfill has gone from being one of the youngest players to debut with the Eagles to one of the team’s oldest veterans. He doesn’t seem to mind his new role mentoring the next generation.

“Right now, my role in the team is the most important part, being able to cultivate and continue the team culture and keep it on the right path going into the World Cup,” he said.

Stanfill will continue to mentor players once he hangs up his cleats. He plans to coach Sacramento youths. He wants to help rugby grow and to develop top players.

“My hope is once I’m done, I could get (a) group of athletes together, both men and women, and teach them the finer points of rugby,” Stanfill said. “It’s the finer points of rugby that separates the average rugby player (from) the great rugby player.”

Many players on the U.S. team come from California. About four players from Sacramento each season are on the Eagles’ roster, said Nigel Melville, USA Rugby CEO.

“If you could put the egos aside, most people across the country would agree that the best rugby in the U.S. is in (Northern) California, and most people in (Northern) California would agree that the best rugby in (Northern) California is in Sacramento,” said Eason, who aside from being involved in the USA Rugby, is a founder of Land Park Rugby, one of the most respected youth rugby programs in California.

While the next generation waits in the wings, Stanfill looks forward to life after rugby and plans to get married in the fall and start a family. He bought a house in Sacramento last October with his fiancée, 24-year-old Kramer Greenberg, a Sacramento native who played water polo at Arizona State.

“I think it’s just knowing that if I exit out now it’s on my terms as opposed to continuing to hold onto this dream, or this lifestyle and playing myself out,” he said.

Pacific Nations Cup at a glance

  • When: Friday
  • Where: Bonney Field
  • Who: Fiji vs. Samoa, 5 p.m.
  • United States vs. Japan, 8 p.m.
  • Tickets: $20-$103