Rugby, to the casual observer, is a game not far removed from American football. It is a game marked by violent collisions and explosive breakaways. Teamwork is essential to the carefully timed lifting up of players of a line-out and the head-to-head shoving matches between 8 players from each team, a scrum. However, for Jesuit Rugby’s newly appointed head coach Matt Ortiz ‘08, the most important part of the sport takes place off the field.

Mr. Ortiz said he discovered his love for rugby while in college at St. Edwards University. “A group of students wanted to start [the previously discontinued rugby program] back up,” he said, and they invited him to join in their practice. “I had no idea what it was,” Ortiz remarked, “but intramurals don’t have that same level of competition, so I decided to jump in on a practice. They threw me in a game that next Saturday, and from that moment on I’ve loved it.”

Ortiz, an alumnus of Jesuit, returned as a math teacher and soon became involved with the Jesuit Rugby program. He quickly made an impression on the players with his ability to “befriend [them] easily while retaining a large amount of respect from each player,” according to Matt Peracchi ‘17. “Personally, I consider him a friend who I can joke with,” he said, “but when the time comes to do work, I show the utmost respect and discipline towards him.”

While he loves playing and coaching techniques and tactics of the game, Ortiz emphasized that the on-field competition does not completely encompass the culture of rugby. “What I love about rugby, what’s special about the game, is the culture that surrounds it,” he said. “It’s all about family, and about taking care of one another.”

Jesuit’s biggest rivalry game is the battle for the Bishop’s Cup against St. Thomas of Houston, a game Ortiz described as “good competition and really good food afterward.” Ortiz explained that a shared postgame meal between the two sides is a unique rugby tradition: “After playing a very ferocious sport, you spend time together with the opposing team and eat meals together,” he said. “We have competition on the field, but we’re also a community off the field.”

This devotion to community applies also to the strong community service tradition that the Jesuit Rugby program has established. In the first few weeks of school, the team held a supply drive for the victims of the Baton Rouge flooding. “It’s the first thing we’re doing as a program, which is [a great example of] rugby culture,” Ortiz said. “We’ve played in Louisiana, so we now have that connection with Louisiana because they are part of our rugby family.”

Ortiz said his predecessor at the head coach position, Coach Mattacchione, started the community service culture because of his role as assistant service director and the importance of community in rugby. “One of my biggest goals is to make sure this continues,” Ortiz said. “It’s more about family and faith than what the scoreboard says at the end.”

Ortiz also said he tries to have an impact on his players, commenting that “the relationships that I can build on the field are special because all who play are people who desire to play and learn the sport. I really love getting to teach them not only the sport but the culture, and forming a relationship both with each other and the wider community.” Jared Jowdy ‘17 attested to the importance of these relationships, saying that “[Mr. Ortiz] has the ability to lead, which has strengthened and unified us as a team.”

Jowdy also commented on Ortiz’s readiness to work to improve the program in his first month as head coach. “[One of his strengths] that has already stood out to me in the time that he has been a head coach is his ability to be organized,” Jowdy said. “He has already brought two other coaches in to help coach backs, while he coaches forwards and has everything scheduled out for us to help make us successful.”

Looking ahead to the upcoming season, Ortiz is prepared for the tough competition: “Even though we’re in a tough division, we’re going to put a really good team on the field and press some of the best teams.” “There are a lot of things that come with the new position that we’ll have to take on one at a time,” Ortiz said. Right now, though he is “excited for the opportunity to have a lot more of an influence on the sport.”