IU senior rugby captain Bryce Campbell has already accomplished what most athletes can only dream of doing. He has represented his country on the international stage.
Campbell made his first senior international appearance by starting for the United States national rugby union team, known as the USA Eagles, Nov. 4 against the New Zealand Maori All Blacks in front of more than 18,000 fans in Chicago.
While the match ended in a 54-7 victory for New Zealand, the opportunity to suit up for the U.S. was a landmark moment for Campbell.
“It was such a cool environment,” Campbell said. “Being on that stage in front of friends and family and playing against players that are superstars in the rugby world was really cool.”
It was during his time at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis that Campbell’s rugby career began to flourish. He was selected to play for the USA Rugby High School All-American sevens team during his senior year before he decided to follow in his older brother’s footsteps and play club rugby at IU.
“I had to make a decision whether to go to a traditional rugby school or to come to IU and play with my brother and create a legacy here,” Campbell said. “I decided to come, and I’m so happy I did.”
That legacy has culminated in Campbell making appearances for the U.S. at various international levels. Following a tour of Australia with the USA Rugby Collegiate All-American team this past summer, Campbell received a call-up to play for the USA Rugby Selects team in the World Rugby Americas Pacific Challenge in Uruguay.
The tournament provided Campbell with a distinctive experience of playing with seasoned international players in three matches.
“It was another step up in the speed and physicality of the game,” Campbell said. “Although I have a ton of room for growth, I know that physically I can hang with those guys.”
Prior to his stint with the USA Selects team, Campbell benefited from time spent with a club team in Sydney. While Campbell awaited the arrival of the Collegiate All-American squad in Australia, IU rugby head coach Sopa Enari called up his own brother in Sydney to help get Campbell a trial with the club.
Campbell credits going to a nation where rugby is among the most widely played sports with helping enhance his knowledge of the game.
“The pace of the game down there is on another level,” Campbell said. “In Australia everyone’s knowledge of the game is much higher. Learning how to thrive in the fast-paced environment of the club really grew my game.”
After a tournament IU played in Philadelphia during the summer, Enari recommended Campbell for the Collegiate All-American team.
“As a former rugby player, I knew he had the tools and what it takes to play at that level,” Enari said. “Bryce is committed, honest to himself, and he puts in the work. His rugby IQ is very good, and his work ethic is second to none. He totally deserves everything that comes around for him.”
Enari and the IU team made the trip to Bridgeview, Illinois, to watch Campbell in his first senior match with the U.S., and Enari wasn’t surprised with Campbell’s performance.
“His defense was good, his tactical positioning was outstanding, and the few times he could get the ball, his offense was good,” Enari said. “I was very proud to say he plays for IU.”
Despite starting against the Maori All Blacks, Campbell had to wait until this past Saturday to earn his first international test appearance for the U.S. Campbell started for the USA Eagles in a 23-10 defeat to Romania in Bucharest, Romania, as part of the Autumn Internationals.
As a result of his international test debut, Campbell was awarded an Eagle number to signify his full status as an international American player. Campbell was given Eagle No. 497, meaning he was the 497th all-time player to play for the USA Eagles. Campbell will have one more opportunity to feature for the U.S. in 2016, as the USA Eagles will travel to Spain to face Tonga on Nov. 19 in their final Autumn International match.
For Campbell, this means he has another chance to continue his progression as a rugby player and to represent his country as he once dreamed he would.
“It’s been my dream ever since I was a kid to be a U.S. Eagle,” Campbell said. “Hopefully this is the first cap of many for me, so I need to prove that I deserve to be there and do everything I can to help us win.”
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