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Monday, March 7, 2016

Inong Overcomes Adversity To Earn PRO Rugby Contract

By Derek Sagehorn

Last week, Josh Inong, of the Santa Rosa Rugby Football Club, signed a contract with Pro Rugby's Sacramento franchise. He has a chance to become one of the first professional rugby fifteens players in America. His road to get here hasn't been easy. Ten years ago, at the pinnacle of his schoolboy career, Inong was fighting for his life.

Inong first picked up rugby while watching his older sister play for Else Allen High School. 11 at the time, he started attending boys practice while waiting for his sister to finish her training. By his senior year in high school, he was an accomplished hooker with offers to attend the USA U-19 rugby development camp. Elsie Allen, coached by Old Blue Alan Petty, play a distinctly Sonoma County brand of rugby; one that starves opponents of possession with hard crashing forwards and a liberal application of Law 15.6 ("Players are on their feet if no other part of their body is supported by the ground or players on the ground.")

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Inong was the heart of this team, and he was everywhere on the field. Taking balls off the time of the lineout, playing halfback and standoff, all while doing the hard work in the coalface. At the start of the year the Lobos resolved to beat Jesuit, reigning NorCal champions and multiple national champions. The team from the other side of the tracks in Santa Rosa blew their way through NorCal playoffs and ended up beating Jesuit in Sacramento.

Crowned NorCal champions, Elsie Allen and Inong qualified for the now-defunct USA Rugby national championship. The Lobos won two games before facing Penn Rugby of Indiana. Elsie Allen wing Nicholas Maloney described the Midwesterners as "corn-fed giants." The forward pack looked like a young Division 1 offensive line, according to Inong. But the Lobos clawed their way to victory in the final minutes of the contest. Exhausted, the Lobos had one night to rest before facing Highland High School of Utah--the winningest boy’s rugby club in the United States--in the National Championship match. Again, the Lobos were physically outmatched but they couldn't stop big Highland runners like Ryan Roundy this time. Although Highland ran away with the score, the Lobos never stopped clawing and were rewarded with some late scores.

Despite the bittersweet ending, Inong felt Nationals were just gravy--something they never expected but enjoyed nonetheless. He was also invited to the next USA U-19 training camp in Indiana that summer by head coach Salty Thompson. In addition, he was contemplating attending some of the better rugby playing universities in California. It was a time of celebration. The next month Inong's family held a cookout for his high school graduation. The warm feelings quickly evaporated when two gunmen entered the backyard with long rifles and shot six people, including Josh Inong. Inong had been shot six times, with wounds in both legs, back and right arm. The shooters were never apprehended.

Recovery was tough. Inong spent three months in a wheelchair, and then three months in crutches. He had to learn how walk again--a frustrating setback for someone so mobile. He missed the U-19 camp in Indiana, but Coach Thompson flew him out for the winter training in Arizona so that he could with the squad. He was years away from playing rugby at the point, but he appreciated that USA Rugby hadn't forgotten him.

The next year Inong began jogging, and eventually running. In the meantime he coached rugby and took classes at Santa Rosa Junior College. In 2007 he started playing rugby for the college. He then moved up to Olympic Club, and then OMBAC when transferred to San Diego State University for classes. In 2010 he won a national championship for OMBAC playing hooker--it had taken him five years and a nasty recovery but he got the ring. Based on his performance for OMBAC, the head coach of the Philippines National Men's team invited Inong--who is part Filipino--to a camp in New York City. Inong impressed and was offered a chance to move to the Philippines to play with the side. The next three years Inong played in tournaments for the side all over the Far East, including matches in Japan, UAE, and Honk Kong. He returned to the US, and after a few detours, came home to Santa Rosa.

Playing for the currently undefeated Santa Rosa RFC, he had a chance to reconnect with old teammates and friends. Robert Meeson, lock for the 2005 Else Allen squad, plays alongside him there, and will in Sacramento as well. But the chance to play professionally has its tensions. He is trying to balance his responsibilities to his family, including a boy and a girl, with a move to Sacramento. Nonetheless, he looks forward to being part of the historic endeavor. "Getting paid to play rugby with my friends in NorCal, home to some of the best competition in America," is an opportunity not most people get. But Josh Inong is not one to let chances go untaken.

3 comments:

  1. This is an absolutely terrific article. Well-written and wild. Congrats to Josh

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  2. What a well written article and how exciting that professional rugby is coming to america. I am looking forward to more articles that will enlighten me on the players and the intricate workings of the game

    ReplyDelete