Ed Tandy sprinted to the end of the track, the finish line was in sight, and he was there. But he did not stop. He just kept running past the waiting spectators and into the parking lot as he jumped into his friend’s car and continued on to rugby practice.
For Tandy, this type of packed schedule is a regular feature of his daily life. The first Cal player in more than a decade to play both rugby and football, free time is a distant memory for Tandy.
“I can get bored really easily, and just being able to be active constantly just helps me stay on top of things,” Tandy says.
Growing up in Tustin, Calif., football, as for many U.S. boys, was a constant feature of Tandy’s life, whether it was playing with his friends in the backyard or playing in games in elementary school and beyond. His rugby playing days, on the other hand, would come later.
In his freshman year of high school, Tandy noticed his Polynesian friends carrying “a strange oblong ball” — what he would later learn was a rugby ball. His interest piqued, he went home and watched YouTube videos of rugby. He was instantly hooked by the “crazy” European game.
The next day, he signed for Back Bay Rugby Football Club in Newport Beach.
His newfound love for rugby and the skill set he acquired at Back Bay was developing his tackling and agility. This improvement helped Tandy excel in football, and he went into his senior season ranked No. 7 on a Southern California Linebackers Watch List.
With his high-school career soaring, Tandy was offered a football scholarship at Cal. But when he realized he would be attending one of the best rugby schools in the country, he also realized football alone would not be enough for him.
“When I signed here at Cal, I knew the reputation the rugby team had,” Tandy says. “And I was like, I might as well, since I’m here, be a part of something great.”
His college decided, Tandy now had to face the actuality of being the first Cal athlete since the 1990s to actively pursue both rugby and football full time. Some of the greatest Cal football players — 11 members of the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame — had backgrounds in rugby.
“I like for our players to participate in other sports,” says football head coach Sonny Dykes. “I think it’s good to compete. Any time an athlete is competing, it makes them better.”
The intensity of the modern game, however, has contributed to the end of this tradition. Football has become an all-around commitment. The football season no longer exists as players are expected to train year-round in terms of both physical and mental conditioning, with talks on strategy and video analysis.
This devotion to football is something Tandy underestimated prior to coming to Cal. Ideally, he wanted to balance rugby and football equally, but in reality, rugby would take something of a back seat. Ultimately, Tandy was recruited to Cal on a football scholarship, and that is something he’s had to respect, even if it has come at the price of his time playing rugby. A dual athlete at his core, to allow one sport to take precedence was a difficult pill to swallow.
This sacrifice would be a hard one for Tandy, as neither sport takes a back seat in his mind. His love for the chaos and speed of a football game is matched by the love he feels for the chess-like logic and endurance required in rugby.
“In football, I would say it’s more chaotic and a lot faster in a shorter period of time, but in rugby, it’s like a chess match,” Tandy says. “You have to play really smart and, not that football isn’t as well, but in rugby we’re on the go all the time.”
Football and rugby aside, Tandy also has to focus a lot of his energies on academics. Being a student at UC Berkeley, athlete or not, is hard work, and much of the training Tandy misses is due to his academic commitments.
“The biggest concession we are making with Ed’s rugby participation is rightly with his academics,” says head rugby coach Jack Clark. “He has a college writing class which doesn’t allow him to attend our trainings twice a week. These are important training days, but we feel strongly that academics is the priority.”
Tandy’s lack of presence at practice and the strain that puts on his relationship with his teammates is another factor that he struggles with day to day. Football and rugby are team sports, and in pursuing his own ambitions, Tandy often feels he is disappointing his teammates.
“I feel like I don’t really get to be there — I feel like I’m just letting them down for football and for rugby,” Tandy says. “But it’s a part of doing two sports — you’ve got to be able to balance and go between the two, and it’s tough, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
One such sacrifice Tandy will have to make will be April 26, the day of the annual spring football game and the rugby Varsity Cup semifinals. It’s a day of sporting entertainment for Cal fans, but for Tandy, it represents yet another difficult decision for an athlete who refuses to choose between his two loves.
Every practice Tandy misses or game he is unable to play due to other commitments is worth it for him, as he ultimately gets to do what he loves on a daily basis. He, like many greats before him, cannot be defined by just one sport. He is a rugby-footballer.
Ed Tandy has spent his life juggling a variety of different activities, and while his exterior is one of calmness and control, behind the scenes there is a constant balancing act going on just to stay afloat. Tandy has to stay up late into the night to finish his school work and wake up early the next day for practice — he has no letup. This struggle is one he is willing to make, though, as to not do so is simply not an option.
“I just don’t really like seeing myself as a mediocre athlete or football player,” Tandy says. “I want to be more than that.”