Maliek Perry, an imposing specimen at 6-feet-3-inches, 220 pounds, stands for the La Jolla High rugby team that is coming off two championships, shooting for a three-peat this winter.
And the friendly, well-spoken 17-year-old quickly comes up with reasons he is attracted to the sport: “One, I like to hit people,” says the defensive end. And two, “It helps me for tackling for football.”
Perry, a junior, didn’t play for the two Viking club championship teams the past two years. His arrival this season just shows how rugby keeps drawing new participants at LJHS and in other programs in the San Diego area, building more and more buzz around the sport.
In what teammate Seth Stephens, 16, calls “an undiscovered sport”— ”though in Europe it’s big, New Zealand, even Utah”— Perry and Stephens, who did play for the two title winners in 2018 and 2019 under head coach Bill Leversee, have had to learn how to pass the odd-shaped bladder, the separation between offensive players, “tries” rather than touchdowns, and other nuances of rugby.
“It’s not hard to learn [all the intricacies],” says Perry, hurriedly dressing in the campus boys locker room before rushing out to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday practice. “It just takes time.”
Dev Ferris, a New Zealander, and Nate Sylvia, both professional players for the San Diego Legion, are coaching for the Vikings this season. After an exchange with team members during practice on scrum drills, Ferris, getting blank looks from the 26 boys present, realized, “I’m speaking too fast. Let me restate my question,” which he did in his substantial Kiwi accent, which only seems to lend additional credibility to his instructions.
Marty Jellison, a football team captain at Chula Vista High, echoes Perry’s words about hitting. “The aggressiveness, the physicality, the contact,” says the 5-foot-10-inch, 250-pounder about his draw to the sport. It’s enough for the former Viking footballer to get a ride from mom for practices from the South Bay, a long haul in traffic for weekday practices two evenings a week. Many games are on Saturdays.
Leversee, a two-time college All-American at UC Santa Barbara, graduating in 1987, took over at La Jolla two years ago and, like his players, hopes this year means a three-peat in the White Division versus the likes of Patrick Henry, Point Loma, Mater Dei Catholic, Del Norte, and Westview.
Leversee, who helped the club sport raise money to hire Ferris and Sylvia (a returner from last year) to coach, and to pay a fee to use the LJHS field, actively took part in coaching during a practice session a reporter visited.
In a drill to score, he asked, “How many of you have a dog? When you open the door, your dog will get through the opening or your legs any way he can. The same with scoring: any way that works. You need to shoot the gap.”
Other team members include backs (fleet runners) Diego Cortes, Thomas Davies, Nico Dimatteo, Ryan Phillips, and Jaggar Vrana, and forwards (bigger boys) Adam Tomasek, Dirk Germon, Aiden Trudeau, Alessandro Demoreno, and Jack Wiese.