The United States is about to defend its gold medal in Olympic men’s rugby — an honor it earned a mere 92 years ago — and Stephen Tomasin is hoping to help the Americans get there.
Tomasin, a prep football star at Cardinal Newman, is among 26 men vying to make the U.S. Olympic Men’s Rugby Team. On July 18, a dozen of those men will be chosen to wear the national uniform in Rio de Janeiro. The Olympics haven’t included rugby since the 1924 Games in Paris, when the Americans beat the only other two competitors, France and Romania, to claim gold.
“Wow,” Tomasin said by phone Wednesday when asked what it would mean to him to make the Olympic squad. “It would be the biggest accomplishment of my life, by far, in terms of how much the guys, myself and the guys on the team, push ourselves. We kind of break mental barriers. To make the Olympics is almost hard to think about. Because growing up watching the Olympics, you always marvel at these people that do what they do.”
To be sure, Tomasin is no lock to make the team. He is, at 21, the youngest and almost certainly the least experienced of the men in the talent pool. Considering the hurdles he has overcome to get this far, though, no one is counting him out.
Tomasin was a stud athlete at Cardinal Newman, but his sport was football. As a junior he scored six touchdowns in a playoff game against Bishop O’Dowd. As a senior he was voted North Bay League offensive MVP.
After high school, Tomasin was invited to try to join the San Diego State football team as a walk-on. At 5-foot-10, he didn’t think he’d get a fair chance to make the team. So he turned to rugby, a sport that his cousin, Michael Tomasin, had lured him to in high school. They were part of the same class at Cardinal Newman.
Stephen Tomasin played just one year with the Santa Rosa Rugby Club, but when he went all-in in college, he found out he was pretty good at the game. OK, he was very good. He was selected to the USA Rugby Men’s Collegiate All-Americans after his freshman year, embarking on what now looks like a possible career path.
For the past two years, Tomasin has trained and played with the USA Eagles, as the national team is known. He has competed in Argentina, in Chile, in New Zealand, South Africa, Dubai and France. Last year he played at the Pan-American Games in Toronto.
“We go there for the purpose of winning a tournament or whatever the case may be,” Tomasin said. “But at the same time we usually get to see a little bit of the country. … To see how many people show up to these tournaments around the world, it is pretty exciting to see it come together.”
Tomasin plays halfback in rugby. He’s definitely not among the giants of this beefy game, though he is stoutly built at 195 pounds.
“The position I play is made for smaller guys,” Tomasin said. “There are a lot of big guys, and you can’t run away from them if they run at you. So I don’t really have a choice in those terms.”