Austin grad starts up rugby academy in twin cities

Published 9:38 pm Tuesday, February 2, 2010

An Austin grad is looking to open some doors for nontraditional rugby players.

Rob Holder, a 1985 Austin grad who has coached Division I rugby at Stanford University, is now starting Spearhead Rugby Academy, a program similar to junior hockey that will be based out of the Twin Cities.

Holder is looking to train and develop rugby players from across the country with the hopes of them moving on to play at the college, pro or Olympic level (rugby was recently added as an Olympic sport).

“There’s a lot of talented athletes playing rugby who can’t get into a college program,” Holder said. “It’s an alternate pathway for kids who don’t fit into the system.”

SRA, which opens this August, will begin as a place where 15-20 players who have recently graduated from high school will live together and train together. SRA will most likely be based out of St. Paul, Minn and attendees will play on area metro teams that fit their skill level.

Eventually, Holder would like to have his own academy team and he sees the maximum number of players at SRA to be around 40.

“As we grow, we’ll probably have a club team,” he said. “The goal is to get them ready to play international rugby at a professional level or for team USA.”

Holder’s motivation to start SRA came when he coached at East Palo Alto high school in California for the past three years. At East Palo, Holder ran into a few players on his Razorback U19 team who had the talent to play at the highest levels, but were not planning on attending traditional rugby colleges.

Holder is also motivated by his love for rugby — he played professionally and has traveled the world with it.

“The sport’s been really good to me and it’s a growing sport in America,” Holder said. “It’s got a great mix of football and wrestling (which Holder played in Austin). You need the skills of football and the endurance of wrestling.”

Since moving to Stillwater, Minn., due to his wife’s new job, Holder has made a few visits to Austin lately.

“I get back fairly often and me and my buddies like to brag about our back-to-back Big Nine football titles that we won,” he said.

While coaching at Stanford, Holder became good friends with Conrad Ray, an Austin grad who coached golf for the Cardinal and he had two Austin natives help him design his web site for SRA. Pat Garry of Austin did the web design and Mark Garry of Austin did the logo design.

HOLDER’S PATH

1985 — Holder graduated from Austin High School, where he was class president, and was an All-Big Nine wrestler and football player.

1989 — Holder graduated from West Point, where he wrestled Division I all four years. Holder went on to fight in the gulf war, where he received a bronze star.

Prior to coaching, Holder played professional rugby for the St. Paul Pigs, Chicago Lions and won a National Championship with the Denver Barbarians.

1999-2003 — Head coach of the Air Force Academy men’s rugby team. The team won a national championship in 2003 under Holder.

2003-2005 — Coach of the Stanford University men’s and women’s rugby team. The women’s team won a national championship in 2005 under Holder.

2006-2009 — Head coach of the Razorback U19 team at East Palo Alto high school, Calif. The team won the men’s division II championship under Holder in 2009. Holder was named Ruggamatrix USA’s coach of the year in 2009.

2006-2008 — Holder was the manager of the USA Eagles, which were World Cup Qualifiers in 2006.