LANGLEY — When you take a second to consider the quality of stone from which Josiah Levale has been chiseled, perhaps it’s not surprising to learn just how resourceful one of the prized signings in Trinity Western rugby’s incoming 2020 class of recruits was in tending to his training regimen over the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For the first month, I had no access to weights, so I was training in my bedroom, putting heavy stuff in bags to lift,” says Levale, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior who starred on both the pitch and the court with the rugby and basketball Panthers at Abbotsford Secondary School.
“Man, I got some rocks out front, then I loaded them in a bag… a knapsack,” he added when asked for a more accurate description of his makeshift home gym.
As far as creative training regimens go, it’s about as spartan as you’ll find, and it so clearly paints a picture of the intangible part of a skill set that TWU Spartans head coach Andrew Evans can’t speak to without first breaking into a smile.
“His vision is phenomenal, he’s extremely athletic, explosive and fast, and his 6-3 frame gives him the ability to get off some great off-loads,” says Evans of securing the services of the Canadian 7’s and 15’s age-group national team player, who is following in the footsteps of his talented, older sisters Nakisa Levale, and rising TWU second-year player Tausani Levale.
“I can’t wait to start working with him,” continues Evans of his incoming rookie, a player he feels will ultimately be defined by the combination of agile athleticism, power and size he will bring to any number of positions from fly half to wing to fullback.
Although not trying to compare player vs. player, Evans references, from a stylistic point of view, a veteran New Zealand rugby league star.
“Sonny Bill Williams is 6-4 and think, like a 110 kilos (242 pounds),” begins Evans. “But Josiah has a frame on him. I am not trying to compare, but he has the potential to work in that direction. He has the body type where he can play in the centres, and run some strong lines because he’s got big hands, long arms and good touch on the ball. He’s got the potential to play like those kinds of players that have become world-class. He’s got strength, speed, size, vision, aggression and just a beautiful spirit. The sky is the limit for him.”
AN IMPRESSIONABLE BABY BROTHER
Born into a family of Samoan heritage, where the sport of rugby is a way of life, and as the baby brother to two prodigiously-talented older rugby-playing sisters, Josiah Levale’s perspective on his sport has been culled in the most organic of ways.
“It has been so great to see them get to travel the world, doing what they love,” Levale says of his sisters Nakisa and Tausani, respectively five and three years older than himself, and both veterans of Canadian national team play.
“They both have so many relationships with coaches and players… it’s like a whole community that has the same mindset, to work and continue to improve.”
It’s finding his own version of that same environment that has Levale so excited about beginning his own post-high school rugby career.
“It’s really incredible to see all that comes with training and working,” continues Levale, who himself has already represented Canada in various age-group competitions in both 15’s and 7’s. “When you start off, it’s never to make the national team, but as you grow, and as you get to that next step, it becomes more and more in sight.”
Levale’s fondest memory over the early stages of his national team career happened last July, when at the age of 16, a full year ahead of schedule, he made the Under-18 Canadian 7’s team, which took part in a four-team Canada-USA series staged in Toronto.
Just after Christmas, playing with the full 15’s, he was part of the Canadian Under-18 team which took part in a competition on San Diego.
Evans watched that competition and came away marvelling about Levale’s versatility and the combination of both his skills and innate feel for the game, especially during one memorable sequence.
Playing fullback and returning a kick at top gallop, Levale, with an opposition player right in his face, used his decoy to perfection.
“He was able to throw a cut out pass and hit his winger wide… he just threw it on a rope. I was just blown away by his ability to put that pass on a rope, while under pressure, at full stride,” Evans said. “It’s just not that easy to do, and so for a young guy able to do that on a tour internationally spoke volumes about him.”
Evans, who admits he is not as familiar with Nakisa Levale’s game, nonetheless sees the dynamic intangibles which seem to run in the family.
“It reminded me of Tausani and the kinds of plays she makes,” added Evans of the younger sister, who is coming off of her freshman season with the Trinity Western women’s team, which like the men’s squad, enjoyed its debut season in 2020.
“Tausani is one of the best players in the world in my opinion,” adds Evans. “She starts for Canada in the centres, and Canada is a top-three nation in the world. Tausani is awesome. She is fierce. She has great skills. Great vision, And like Josiah, she makes the players around her better.”
And also like Josiah, both Nakisa, a Province newspaper Head of the Class honouree in 2015, and 2017 high school grad Tausani, were each shining stars for the Abby Panthers team.
Tausani, in fact, finished her high school career by playing in four straight B.C. championship game finals, winning one as a Grade 9 with a Grade 11 Nakisa in 2014, and another as a senior in 2017.
While Josiah was able to help lead Abbotsford to the B.C. Quad-A championships in basketball, which completed play just days before the virus shut down provincial high schools, he was unable to join his teammates for the spring rugby season which fell victim to the pandemic.
“In my Grade 10 year (2017-18) we made provincials as a junior team which was an amazing experience, and I was really looking forward to this season,” said Levale. “I wasn’t worried about winning the provincials… we would come to that when we got there. But I just wanted to have fun and make the most of my senior season with the boys.”
BRINGING HIS BEST TO LANGLEY
For Josiah Levale, life as a student-athlete started in 2011-12, when as a fourth grader, he discovered both of sporting passions.
Rugby was a part of his family tradition, but he also learned quite quickly how much he loved playing basketball.
Moving forward, his time on the court has clearly sharpened his qualities on the rugby pitch, and vice-versa as well.
“They both helped me for my other sport in terms of agility and hand-eye coordination and a lot of other athletic aspects,” he says. “The running in basketball is very different. It’s tight turns and using a burst, so that helped (in rugby).”
And if there was one singular aspect on the court which seemed to set Levale apart from the rest, it was in the ways he integrated rugby-style passing into his roundball skill set.
“There were some pretty amazing assists in fastbreak scenarios,” chuckled Abby senior boys basketball coach Greg DeVries. “At times it looked like he was playing rugby out there, making those backwards passes. Basketball players just don’t anticipate passes like that, and the defence would never expect it.”
Still, basketball was no novelty sport to Levale.
“He was quite an all-round player,” admitted DeVries. “He could knock down the open three, but he was also integral in terms of our rebounding and fast break. He was such a great athlete.”
Josiah Levale, 6’3” Canadian u18 and Abbotsford product is joining our Spartans Rugby Program!— TWU Spartans Rugby (@TWURugby) May 25, 2020
Josiah’s humble heart and steady discipline compliment his dangerous skill set, making him a very fun player to watch. Welcome to TWU Josiah! pic.twitter.com/jrr9fT69Bo
Now Levale is joining an up-and-coming men’s rugby program at Trinity Western, one which this past season went 4-2 with its 15’s, with its losses coming at the hands of NCAA D1-A powerhouses St. Mary’s and Central Washington.
TWU beat Oregon, Washington, Western Washington and UBC Okanagan. The Spartans also went a combined 5-5 at the West Coast 7s and the Western Canadian 7s events.
Joining Levale in the school’s second class of incoming recruits are 16 others, including the likes of 6-foot-6 Irish winger Tamilore Awonusi and hometown scrum-half Henry Brown of the D.W. Poppy RedHawks.
“I loved the fight that our players showed,” said Evans. “I loved their boldness and their courage. Now, I think the competition for those top 15 spots in the match-day 23 has just gone through the roof with this class coming in.”
Levale admits he has been asked plenty of times to describe how his Samoan roots have influenced his love of family and rugby.
But he also stresses that he loves to talk about it.
“It’s part of me,” he begins. “I’ve only been to Samoa once, but it was probably the best experience I’ve ever had. I went in 2012. I was 10 at the time. It’s just so beautiful there and the culture is amazing. Within the first day of getting there, we were all playing rugby, just passing the ball around.”
That scene kind of describes how he’s kept his game chops sharp during the pandemic.
“I’ve been training with ‘Sauni, my sister,” he explains. “We go on runs, we go to the field and we do some kicking.”
And of course through it all is the hope that a safe return to pitch will be accompanied by an even greater appreciation for the game he loves most.
Put it all together, and for a Canadian university rugby program still fortifying its brick-and-mortar base, Josiah Levale looks to be arriving as something of a foundational piece.
Just give him some rocks and ask him to do the heavy lifting. The rest, it seems, just takes care of itself.
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