SHERIDAN — At first glance, Quinn Heyneman thought it sounded more like a backhanded compliment. But upon further review, he realized the comment had quite a bit of merit.
After attending church a few weeks ago, a woman asked Heyneman about his future plans. Heyneman revealed to her that he intends to play rugby — a sport he’s not too familiar with — in the fall at Dartmouth College.
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” the woman said. “You are built very well for that, low to the ground and stout.”
Heyneman, taken back for a minute, responded as politely as possible.
“Oh cool, thanks,” he said.
The more and more that discourse ran through Heyneman’s head, the more he thought, ‘she’s not wrong.’ Rugby involves a lot of running, catching and tackling and visually resembles American football, which Heyneman played all four years at Sheridan High School. A rugby tackle is comparable to a double-leg takedown in wrestling, another sport in which Heyneman competed, and every so often, rugby teams must kick the ball, which is a skill Heyneman acquired in his soccer days as a Bronc.
“I’ve never picked up a rugby ball in a competitive atmosphere, but it seems like a pretty cool culmination of the universe lining things up for me,” Heyneman said. “I’ve got the body type for it, and I’ve got the skill set.”
Heyneman visited colleges all across the country for the last three years. During spring break of his sophomore year, Heyneman traveled to the northeast; the following year he went to the southeast and finally, as a senior, he took a trip to the west coast.
But Dartmouth, one of the first colleges Heyneman visited, left and indelible impression on him.
“I liked everything about it,” Heyneman said. “The level of academics, the opportunity to continue athletics and then most of all, the feel of the campus more than anything. … It was one of those places that was kind of perfect from the very beginning.”
The decision, while not official, was made with plenty of high school left to complete. Heyneman would go on to win two state titles in football as a sophomore and junior all while excelling at a high level on both the wrestling mat and soccer pitch.
The thirst to continue his athletic endeavors still raged within Heyneman, so he reached to the Dartmouth football coaching staff about potentially walking on. The coaching staff said they’d give him a chance in the fall, but with the Big Green loaded with upperclassmen at nickelback, cornerback and safety, the deck was stacked against Heyneman.
Dartmouth’s football team sent Heyneman’s recruitment form and game film across the hall to the rugby squad, and Head Coach James Willocks was instantly impressed.
“The thing that jumped out to me was that he played both sides of the ball,” Willocks said. “He’s a running back and then the next play, he’s a defensive back or safety, so that, for us, is huge.”
Heyneman had never truly paid rugby any mind until he talked with Willocks. After Heyneman gained a basic understanding, he began educating himself further and found out that — much like that woman at church said — rugby fits him.
“Being short and smaller, rugby is everything that I’m best at in football and none of what I’m bad at,” Heyneman said. “There are no jump balls no one-on-one junk coverages, none of that stuff.”
While Heyneman may have the body and skill set for rugby, the fact remained: he had never played the sport in an organized fashion. Rugby traces its roots back to the mid 19th century in England. American football evolved from rugby, and while that’s what it’s most similar to, Willocks says it resembles another popular American sport.
“I compare it to basketball,” Willocks said. “Now, it’s not obviously not like basketball, but it’s like basketball in the sense that it’s the ability to read space. It’s the ability to execute in space, support, pass and work off the ball. And then you throw the contact element into it, as well.”
Heyneman has the contact element down and he can thank his linebacking, wrestling and defensemen background for that. It’s those other areas that he’ll try and sharpen as the summer wears on.
There’s a group of people in Sheridan that compete in rugby and play other teams in the area. That’s a start, but most of what Heyneman gains over the next couple of months is on him, and some that have known Heyneman for years believe he’ll do just fine in his newfound sport.
“He is a very, very sharp young man academically and socially,” Sheridan football Head Coach Jeff Mowry said. “He just understands what’s going on around him and understands any game, and rugby, being new to him, I’m sure he’ll pick it up really quick.”
Heyneman has already begun to watch rugby Youtube videos and has received a strength and conditioning program from Willocks that he’ll progress through. Heyneman will attend Dartmouth rugby’s fall camp in August with a chance to earn a roster spot.
This entire process has given Heyneman some déjà vu. He compares it to his sophomore season with the Broncs’ football squad, where he was new to varsity and having to earn his stripes against some bigger and more advanced players.
“Every single day I was getting my butt whooped by Coy Steel and Hayden Hastings and all those guys on that phenomenal state championship team,” Heyneman said. “Being young in our program, you’re not expected to be better at your special footwork and technique. You’re not expected to have any of that down and mastered like those old guys.”
“… All you can do to make a spot as someone new to (rugby) is work just as hard as anyone else there.”
And that’s all Heyneman wants is a chance. Just a couple months ago, Heyneman thought his athletic career was over with his graduation from Sheridan.
An opportunity has presented itself, even if it’s in a sport Heyneman has never played before.