With the feeling of defeat pulsing through his body, Alec Gletzer looked on toward the try zone in frustration. Wings half the size of the former star linebacker blazed past Gletzer, who was playing in his first rugby match ever. The feeling of embarrassment was foreign to him, and it made him desperate to line up in the scrum again.
Only a few hours prior, Gletzer touched a rugby ball for the first time in his life. A group of his friends from Santa Barbara City College approached him and asked if he would join in on their pick-up game. Gletzer accepted, thinking it would keep him shape for football in the fall.
A few months before, in June 2010, Gletzer graduated from Los Gatos High Schoolas the school’s star linebacker, owning the school record for most tackles in a season. After his illustrious high-school career, Gletzer always thought his future would lie in football. According to scout.com, the linebacker drew “high interest” from Colorado and “medium interest” from programs such as Cal, Colorado State, Oregon, Oregon State, Utah and San Jose State.
But only one school would come forth with an offer — San Jose State, for the spring of 2011. The prospect of playing college football was still available, but Gletzer would be forced to miss the 2010 season.
“The biggest problem is that I wanted to start right away,” Gletzer says. “So I went to Santa Barbara City College in the fall. It was a bit of a let down, but in the end, I knew that it was my decision.”
Santa Barbara was well suited for Gletzer’s dreadlocked, surfer persona. He spent most of his days out on the water, carving up waves and soaking in what appeared to be an endless summer. Although he seemed to be in paradise, Gletzer kept his mind set on football.
He searched for new ways to stay in shape, knowing that Division I college football would require him to be in peak physical condition. One summer day in 2010, a group of friends approached Gletzer with a large, white oblong ball the likes of which he had never even touched before.
“I was terrible in my first game; I was getting burned by guys that were smaller than me, and it was confusing,” Gletzer says. “It took a couple of games before I got the hang of things. But once I did, I was sort of addicted to it. From then on, I kind of just immersed myself into the game.”
Gletzer’s football background allowed him to make an easy transition into the physicality of rugby. He joined the rugby team at Santa Barbara City College and engrossed himself in the sport.
Gletzer continually struggled to grasp the rules and nuances of the game, however. But under the guidance of coach Kevin Battle, he evolved into a formidable force in the middle of the field. At flanker, Gletzer set up countless tries and became an efficient passer, rarely turning the ball over.
In spring 2011 — after just one year of playing — Gletzer received an invitation to attend a tryout for the U.S. under-20 national team. Gletzer outperformed some of the nation’s best players and earned his place on the team. The under-20 team took him to England and Georgia. Gletzer was getting everything he wanted out of rugby.
“It was so exciting to be exposed to such new cultures,” Gletzer says. “It all sort of just solidified, in my mind, that rugby was the right path for me.”
As Gletzer’s success in Santa Barbara and abroad grew, his love for rugby had completely pushed football out of his mind. He made the decision that his future would lie with rugby — and word began to get out about the young prospect’s talent.
That word spread north to UC Berkeley, where coach Jack Clark and his staff have operated one of the best rugby programs in the country for the last three decades.
When his second year at SBCC came to a close, the star flanker began looking for a transfer. With his love for rugby still growing, Gletzer’s interest immediately fell on UC Berkeley and its top rugby program.
Gletzer began communicating with Clark regularly, and he devised a plan to meet UC Berkeley’s academic requirements.
“Alec called us all the time, making sure that he was meeting the requirements to make his transfer to Cal complete,” Clark says. “I was really impressed that he was able to make a plan and execute it all on his own. We monitored his skill and development from afar and were very impressed by what he had been able to accomplish in such little time.”
After months of phone calls to Clark and rigorous studying, Gletzer made his transfer to UC Berkeley official in spring of 2013. He would be playing under the best coaching staff possible, only two years after he had first touched a rugby ball.
“I wanted a shot to play rugby for the best team in the country and to study at the best public school in the world,” Gletzer says. “It was a win-win situation for me.”
Gletzer made his impact known the second he stepped on Witter Field, scoring his first try and setting up a number of others in a 176-0 beatdown on rival Stanford. Gletzer’s performance in his first few matches earned him a starting spot at flanker. In just his first year with the Bears, Gletzer earned All-American honors for the second time in his career.
“There was a bit of a transitional period when Alec officially joined the team,” Clark says. “But he settled in quick, and now, his play speaks for itself.”
Now a senior, Gletzer is a staple in Cal’s starting lineup and has set up countless tries for one of the most prolific offensive attacks in the country. He has grown to become an invaluable asset for the top-ranked team in the nation.
“Honestly, if I wasn’t here, I would still be in Santa Barbara, surfing everyday,” Gletzer says. “But I made it … My plan is to take rugby as far as I can possibly take it.”
Christian Legg covers rugby. Contact him at [email protected].
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Alec Gletzer received his invitation to attend a tryout for the U.S. under-20 national team in 2012. In fact, he received his invitation in 2011.
A previous version of this article also incorrectly stated that the under-20 team traveled to England, Ireland and Georgia. In fact, the team traveled to England and Georgia.
A previous version of this article also incorrectly stated that Gletzer officially transferred to Cal in the fall 2012 semester. In fact, Gletzer officially transferred to Cal in the spring 2013 semester.