ABBOTSFORD — When Michael Calvert took a second and thought about all the friendships and moments of brotherhood he had shared with the same group of friends since his early elementary school days in Tsawwassen, the answer was pretty simple.
And that’s why, after he played the role of spectator back on April 10, watching his South Delta Sun Devils beat the visiting Robert Bateman Timberwolves in a Fraser Valley Triple A rugby contest, the team’s star quarterback decided he had one more tour of athletic duty left in his high school career before moving on to begin his football career in the fall as a star recruit of the UBC Thunderbirds.
“I was there, watching them, and after the game I sort of had a calling to play sports again with the guys,” Calvert said in reflection last week after he flashed his game-breaking rugby form in the Sun Devils’ narrow 29-25 loss to Surrey’s Earl Marriott Mariners in the Fraser Valley AAA Tier 1 title match at Rotary Stadium.
“They have been my brothers since 2007, so I thought I might as well throw on the rugby cleats again,” he continued of a sport he has played his entire life, albeit in the shadows of football, his primary sport and one where he sits as one of this country’s top collegiate quarterback prospects.
That and the fact that losing to the eventual B.C. Triple A champion New Westminster Hyacks in an epic Subway Bowl B.C. football semifinal remains, almost six months later, wedged in his craw.
“I also want to see if I can get some redemption from the loss to (eventual B.C. AAA champion) New Westminster in the dome and try to bring home a championship,” said Calvert of the 52-45 loss his team suffered in the provincial semifinals last November to the Hyacks.
The BCSSRU championships begin Wednesday in Abbotsford and South Delta opens that very morning with a 9 a.m. test against Vancouver’s Lord Byng Grey Ghosts.
For Calvert, who says it’s fun to be playing contact sports again without the myriad bumps, bruises and nicks he carried through his last football campaign, the instincts he’s shown on the gridiron have had a smooth follow-through on the rugby pitch.
Against Earl Marriott, a comprehensive, tackle-breaking run in the opening half showcased everything that is truly special about his ability to prosper with the ball in his hands, parlaying any parcel of open space into a series of growing advances down field.
In football season, he may have wisely spotted the marker and slid for a first down.
Last week, on the rugby pitch, the same run took him to the edge of the try line where he then sent a pass back to teammate Keldon Olmstead for a try and a 15-12 lead.
Later, in the second half, pressure from the Mariners was enough that he calmly drop-kicked the ball down field, eventually resulting in a try from his football teammate, running back Andrew Kraft, and 25-17 lead.
“He’s pretty dynamic,” said South Delta rugby coach Spencer Baines of Calvert, whom he lost to cramps down the stretch drive of the contest. “He makes things happen. When he put that kick through, it’s something we’ve been working on. When he makes that break and there is no support with him, why not put it behind (the defence). He’s a great kid.”
Ask Calvert about the future, and he’s excited to suit up at provincials with his rugby teammates, and just bursting to join his new football teammates later this summer at UBC.
“I have played rugby the same length as football,” he begins, “but football is my primary sport and rugby my secondary one. But playing each benefits the other. I’ve really improved by skills (for football) as a ball carrier in rugby. When I go into camp at UBC, I am going to be in great shape.”
Tease him about the fact that he often strikes a football pose with his straight arm on the rugby pitch and looks like a guy trying to keep his knees off the turf as he’s being tackled, and Calvert will admit with a laugh that old habits die hard.
“It’s kind of the football mentality, not wanting to go down,” he says. “I know in rugby that if you do, you have support. But the football instinct is there, and it tells you to just get as many yards as you can.”
For all intents and purposes, Calvert’s high school football career ended at B.C. Place last November when the Hyacks’ defence shut him down on a key fourth-and-six play in a game that not only featured 97 total points, but a feeling that the last team to touch the ball would win.
And so he relishes the fact that, for one more run, he can be back on the field with his brothers in pursuit of a B.C. title.
“My body is 100 per cent good right now, so I am enjoying it,” he says. “I can’t wait for UBC football. And after going through all of my injuries, it’s nice to be able to get out there and do some contact sports.”
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