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Photo courtesy of Arlington Stallions

Zack Niro advances the ball for the Arlington Stallions in an IYRA game last spring.


Stallions players fired up for spring season

Arlington-based team plans sign-up event Dec. 14

By Dave Surico

If Zack Niro, Cody Foss and Spencer Krueger were only high school football players, their involvement on the gridiron would be completed.

Seniors Niro (St. Viator) and Foss (Conant) could reminisce about their recently ended prep careers; sophomore Krueger (Hersey) would have to wait until next year.

But because the trio are rugby players, they’re looking forward to more action in the spring when they’ll take the field for the Arlington Stallions club.

The three are expected to make an impact on the Stallions varsity team, which finished fourth in the Illinois Youth Rugby Association West Division last season.

A sign-up event for the spring season takes place from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Wellness Center at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. The Stallions plan to have teams at the junior varsity, frosh-soph and seventh/eighth and fifth/sixth grade levels. No prior rugby experience is necessary to join the club.

Niro is the only one of the three with a rugby pedigree -- his father Dean still plays.

The 17-year-old St. Viator defensive MVP was recognized for special mention honors on the Daily Herald all-area team, and as a member of the East Suburban Catholic all-conference team. He started playing rugby in sixth grade.

“When you look at both sports, football is a sport where there is going to be major collisions and you’re going to get really, really banged up,” said Niro. “Rugby you need more endurance to play. … The two sports are pretty different. Even the contact in each sport is different.”

Rugby rules do not allow using the head for tackles or for contact above the shoulders. The benefits of the tackling training he received in rugby were demonstrated in Niro’s high school football career.

“I feel like it helped my open-field tackling immensely,” he said. “I was able to tackle everyone in the open field in football. … The fundamentals in rugby are a little different than in football. And when you start to apply those to football it definitely helps.

“I love both sports with all my heart. They’re both amazing.”

Foss, who started on the line for state playoff team Conant, came to the sport late. He heard about the Stallions from fellow Cougar football players when he was a sophomore.

He tried rugby to see if it would aid his football career. The answer was a resounding yes.

“It helped me when it came to mobility,” Foss said. “I became a more mobile offensive lineman, and I could definitely attack the field better.

“It also gives you a little boost in your confidence when you are able to keep up with everyone else on the football field or even bypass their pace because you’re so much better conditioned.”

Foss enjoyed the similarities between the sports and fell in love with the differences. Rugby games feature 40-minute halves. The 15 players per side go nonstop.

“You definitely need more endurance in rugby,” Foss said. “Everyone plays both ways. The game doesn’t stop when someone’s tackled.

“For me, because I played offensive line, it was definitely a good turnaround. You get to carry the ball; everyone gets to get their touches. Everyone in some aspect gets the same opportunities to make the plays.”

Rugby, played without helmets of pads, suffers from a perceived stigma of more injuries. Foss understands the concerns, but disagrees with them.

“In football when you’re tackling someone a lot of times you’re just trying to hit them as hard as you can,” said Foss, a National Honor Society and A Honor Roll student a Conant.

“In rugby there’s a very big importance placed on your tackling form. Tackling safe, using your shoulder … not hitting with the head. That definitely makes the game a lot safer. It’s definitely more of a technical sport instead of blind collisions.”

Rugby will not end for the Niro and Foss after the spring. Both plan to play for the Illinois select team this summer and in college.

Hersey sophomore Krueger worked his way up to a starter on the line for the playoff qualifier.

He found out about the Stallions from a flier at picture day for the Arlington Cowboys youth football team.

He was tentative about going to his first rugby practice.

“I didn’t want to play because I didn’t have any friends in it,” said Krueger. “I showed up, and I loved it.”

Krueger thinks one of the benefits of the club is getting to make friends with teammates from across the northwest suburbs.

“I know a much wider variety of people because I’ve had so many different experiences and opportunities,” he said.

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