By Staff Sgt. Patrice Clarke
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
After a long deployment to Southwest Asia, Senior Airman Nicholas Rosales had one thing on his mind: playing rugby.
Rosales, a 50th Security Forces Squadron member, joined the Air Force more than three years before but it was his time in college that really got him interested in the sport.
In high school Rosales was a running back for his football team and had never even heard of the sport. After a pickup football game at West Virginia University, a couple of rugby players changed his outlook on the sport.
“I didn’t know how to play rugby,” said the Kenilworth, N.J., native. “I was playing a pickup game and next thing I know players from the [college] team saw me playing. They asked me to come out for a rugby scrimmage and I did.”
Rosales picked the game up in just a couple of weeks and soon became proficient.
“I was picked up for the West Virginia University varsity rugby team my sophomore year,” he said.
He accredited his quick learning to truly enjoying the game and the fact that positions rotated on the team.
“I liked the physicality of the game,” he said. “Learning every position helped me learn the game and if someone was ever out, we had them covered.”
The most significant moment for Rosales in college, didn’t come from the championship games or packed stadiums, it came from having friends from his hometown finally see him play.
“I had a really great game and made some pretty good tackles,” remembered Rosales. “Most memorable though, I took a pretty hard hit while playing and had a huge knot on my head that swelled up. I continued to play for a while but finally decided to sit the rest of the game out. I was glad they could come out and see what the game was about.”
While at WVU, Rosales decided to enlist in the Air Force and was soon stationed at Schriever. Once here, he searched for a rugby outlet, which led him to a Colorado Spring’s team.
“When I arrived and started playing with the Grizzlies I didn’t know anyone,” he said. “But that was OK. The culture with rugby is everyone’s a part of the family. During my first year playing I didn’t have a car, but someone on the team would pick me up for practices and drop me off afterward. I had just met these people but that’s the culture.”
Injuries are also a part of the sport’s culture.
“I got to Schriever, played one game with the Grizzlies and broke my foot,” said Rosales.
Neither that injury nor his countless others along the way diminished his enthusiasm for the sport. In fact his passion was contagious.
Senior Airman Anthony Tasker, 50 SFS, got into the sport because of Rosales.
“He started talking about it and asked me to come out to a game and try it out,” said Taskar. “I did and it was great. I now play on the local team with Nick.”
One of his new teammates raised the idea of playing for the Air Force. “I had no idea there was an Air Force team,” said Rosales. “A player on the Spring’s rugby team told me I should try out for the Air Force team. So I found out more information and went for it.”
In 2012, more than 50 players from all across the Air Force tried out for the team.
“I couldn’t believe this program existed,” said Rosales. “[People] flew people from Germany and Korea to attend the tryouts in Colorado.”
Though Rosales shrugged and commented he did all right during the tryouts, he caught the attention of the coaches making the 15-man team and was invited to join a smaller seven-man team.
“It was an honor to play on the All-Air Force Team,” he said. “The level of competition is phenomenal. I feel like you are constantly learning.”
After a second deployment, Rosales returned too late for the 2013 pretrials but was asked to the finals based on his previous performance, something that rarely happens.
“I was really lucky to be invited to the tryouts without having completed the pretrials,” said Rosales. “I didn’t make it this time but that’s just one more reason for me to try harder for next year.”
Tasker has no doubt that Rosales will make it next year.
“Rugby is his drug,” said Tasker. “It’s apparent that rugby helps him get through his day. It’s his release. Though he didn’t make the team this go around, that’s not going to stop him. He will do whatever it takes to get back on that team. He’s that dedicated to the game.”
Rosales continues to train for next season’s tryouts and recently tried out for the Air Force team for a one-time game against the All-Australian air force team.
“I used to play rugby to get out my aggression,” said Rosales. “Now I play because I have to. It’s no longer a want, it’s a need now. Rugby is my game. The team, the camaraderie, it’s like a family, not unlike my Air Force family. That’s the main reason I enjoy the game.”