After a season where the Bears were dominant up until a comeback fell short against archrival St. Mary’s College in the playoffs, several of Cal’s stars were rewarded for their performances with opportunities at the professional level.
The third-ever Major League Rugby draft took place Thursday, and fans of the blue and gold did not have to wait long to see a Bear come off of the board. The Dallas Jackals selected All-American lock and former Cal captain Sam Golla with the first pick of the first round.
“It was very surreal,” Golla said in an interview.
He said he was on the way to work when he got the call, and described being surprised that he went first. He said that he doesn’t necessarily think of himself as the best at his position, listing Cal teammate Max Murphy as his choice for college rugby’s best lock.
“I played rugby simply for the act of playing rugby,” Golla said. “I didn’t even really notice the accomplishments.”
He credited his versatility (he has also started games in the back row) and his willingness to play a lot of minutes for getting him noticed by Major League Rugby teams.
Golla is the first forward to be picked first overall in the MLR draft, with backs kicking off the event in each of the first two years. The Jackals stocked up on college talent after a tough start to the franchise, finishing 0-16 in their first season in the league. The team selected seven players in the draft, the most of any team, in an effort to rebuild from the ground up.
Golla said that he’s excited to be a Jackal, not only because they play in his hometown of Arlington, Texas, but because he looks forward to fostering the kind of comradery that he experienced at Cal with the Jackals’ young core.
As far as his long term rugby goals are concerned, Golla listed one thing first and foremost:
“I want to be a USA Eagle,” Golla said.
Cal rugby has a long history representing the USA internationally, with former bear Blaine Scully captaining the Eagles at the most recent Rugby World Cup and another Cal winger in Christian Dyer bursting onto the scene recently for the national team.
Rugby ATL, the Atlanta-based MLR franchise, quickly traded up to secure the second Cal player off the board. They selected Canadian-born center Seth Purdey with the fourth overall pick, making him the first center selected.
“Atlanta is getting a great center,” Golla said about Purdey.
He described him as a team player who is versatile and loves to learn.
Purdey will join a Rugby ATL team that finished second in the Eastern Conference in the 2022 regular season before losing to Rugby New York in the first round. The Atlanta franchise will be hoping that Purdey can help it avenge that loss and make it back to the finals, where they were in 2021.
The final Cal player selected, out of only three who declared for the draft, was two-time All-American hooker Jack Manzo.
“(Manzo) is such an athletic two,” Golla said. “He looks like a fullback out there.”
Manzo joins former Cal prop Jack Iscaro in D.C. after being selected with the 19th pick by Old Glory. The two have a chance to line up next to each other as part of a potent front row for the struggling franchise.
Manzo spent the summer captaining the USA’s under-23 team, and will look to eventually earn a spot on to the Eagles’ senior squad.
“A big congratulations to Sam, Seth and Jack,” said head coach Jack Clark in a press release. “These are not only three good rugby players, they are fine young men in which we are proud.”