Forty-five year old Frank Tombol jogs onto the field looking every bit a rugby coach. Toned and physically fit at 6-2 and 225 pounds, he joins the group of Mohawk College players preparing for their next Ontario Colleges Athletic Association game.
Except Tombol is not the coach. He’s a rookie No. 4 lock on the Mountaineers rugby squad. Alex Paris is the coach… and even he is younger than the insurance program student from Brantford.
“Others think I am the coach and they kinda look at me (when told he’s a player),” said Tombol while the Mountaineers went through their paces at the adjacent Hillfield Strathallan fields.
And while Tombol may be a rookie on the Mohawk team, he’s no rookie to rugby. He’s been a member of the Brantford Harlequins Rugby Club for several years, although he didn’t take up the sport until he was 31. A gym club buddy and rugby player suggested he give it a try. The rest, as they say, is history.
One can understand Tombol playing rugby with the Harlequins in the Ontario Premier League’s over-35 division, but what would prompt one to play collegiate ball.
“I love to compete a lot,” offers Tombol, a former junior football player who now runs marathon races and plays underwater hockey… when’s he not on a rugby field, of course. “You can’t take the boy out of the man. But this isn’t a whole lot different than the rugby I play except for the tackling. Here they tackle. In the other league when we tackle we kind of hug each other and agree to fall down. But I haven’t looked out of place.”
For Paris, who was slightly surprised to learn that a 45-year-old was thinking of trying out for the team, Tombol gave him something not many coaches get at the college level.
“He brings leadership. He’s not looked at as the older guy, the uncle on the team. He has a level of (playing) maturity. He knows what should happen because he’s been playing for so many years,” said Paris, who knew Tombol as an opposing player. Paris says Tombol is a natural athlete who is a joy to coach.
For the moment, Paris, who put the Mohawk team together when he was a student and has coached it for eight years, will capitalize on Tombol’s experience and athletic abilities.
The Mountaineers travel to Barrie’s Georgian College looking for the second win of the season. Mohawk opened its rugby season beating Sir Sanford Fleming 24-5 last Saturday. They play their first home game on Tuesday, Sept. 26.
Paris is guardedly optimistic about Mohawk’s chances this season. For the first time he was faced with the task of having to cut players because of the large turnout of prospects. What he finds appealing is that all but one, have club experience. They have to make the change from club play to varsity play, but that’s a challenge Paris will take any day over lack of experience.