Louisiana’s Deep South All-Stars: Meet Aaron Gootzeit

This Saturday, The Deep South All-Stars will be playing the Southern Conference All-Stars at Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina. The Deep South All-Stars are made up of primer players from the universities that are a part of the D3 Deep South Rugby Conference. The teams involved in the Deep South Conference are primarily from Louisiana, Florida and Alabama. The universities that are a part of the conference are, University of West Florida, University of Southern Mississippi, University of South Alabama, Troy University, Spring Hill College, Tulane University, Loyola University, Louisiana Tech University, and University of Louisiana Lafayette.

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pictures by Elizabeth Cangelosi Photography

Aaron Gootzeit is a senior star for the Louisiana Tech Rugby Club in Ruston, LA. Louisiana Tech Rugby recently made their return back on campus, after facing a suspension from the school for infractions a few years back. Gootzeit has been a veteran leader for the Louisiana Tech side, as it slowly returns back to form. Gootzeit was recently named captain of the Deep South All-Stars for this game. We wanted to catch up with Gootzeit to get his perspective of the sport.

GTRN: How do you feel selected to the Deep South Rugby Conference All-Stars?

AG: It’s an honor that my coaches, other coaches around the league saw me fit to be on the team. When they were talking about the selections, I didn’t think I was gonna be on the team honestly. I was hoping for it, but I wasn’t expecting it.

GTRN: Is this your first selection?

AG: Yeah, for rugby. This is our first year back in the conference. Our club gotten in trouble a few years ago before I had gotten in school. This year was our first year allowed back

GTRN: What does it mean to you being named captain for this team?

AG: It’s still unbelievable. It’s still settling in. Before we had our last game, the ref said, “who’s the captain?”, everybody kind of looked around. The head coach, Wes Darwin, looked at me and said “Aaron, you’re it.” I was like, man, and I just smiled.It’s an honor i’ll wear with pride. I think it’s something special. Captain in rugby is different then a captain in any other sport. When you’re the captain, you have a responsibility for 24 other guys, I think the rosters are 25 now. You have a responsibility and commitment for 25 other guys that you can’t bring no matter what it is. Being a captain means that you play and you put your heart on the line, and you put everything out there. You have to lead by example. I’m excited about being able to do that.

GTRN: What are you hoping to take away from game?

AG: My ultimate goal is to do research in sports performance in rugby. So what I would like to take out of this is contacts. I would like to really meet life long friends. I feel like I already have with people on the team and the coaches. Rugby is a small community and I really just want to work on the interpersonal relationships that I have with everybody. I’m excited about taking the trip to South Carolina to play a sport that I love. I’m just in it to have fun. The captain just makes it that much better. And having the opportunity. And meeting as many people that are involved with USA rugby as I can, meeting some Eagles, and bonding with the people in my conference.

GTRN: What do you do to train for rugby?

AG: Oh man, power cleans and squats. Power cleans, squats and burpees. And different variation all the said above. I get paid to work people out. I’m a personal trainer and I teach group exercise classes. So aside from me having to exercise and keep a certain look to make money, I try to train as hard as I can, and I never feel satisfied. I always feel like I can do one more round, or do one more rep, or do one more set. Sometimes I have to cut myself off cause I know I’ll do more damage than good. When I’m training for a season, like when I’m getting ready for the matrix season or the All-Star game inparticular, about 6 weeks out I started training really hard. I was going 6 days a week, rest on Sunday. I ran, I ran rugby style running. Like 100’s while passing, 400’s, 200 meter running. On Monday’s, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays i’d do some some running. I’d do Overspeed running. Either downhill running or have the band pull me. I would do resistance running where I would strap myself to a band and I’d run against resistance, or I’d have someone pushing against me. I’d lift weights about 3 or 4 days a week. When i started training for specifically for this game, I helped my body, instead of doing 8 -10 or 12 reps, trying to look good. I busted up to 12-15 reps, 5 sets, 30 second rest period. And i pretty much kept that same formula for everything, threw in some box jumps. Supersetted everything. Instead of power cleans, 12 power cleans. I mean a lot of people might not do that many, but that’s me. I’d do 12 Power Cleans and some box jumps. I’d do about 5 rounds, get some water, and then hit up two more exercises. This is a sport where if you’re physically fit, and someone has equal skill as you, you can beat them on your strength and your fitness.

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GTRN: Is there anyone who’s style of play you try and emulate on the field?

AG: There’s a few people, including rugby athletes. I’m from New York, I grew up playing baseball. Actually ended up in Louisiana on a baseball scholarship to Grambling. ended up not finishing up my four years there. Derek Jeters one of my idols, one of my favorite athletes all time. He doesn’t speak. He leads by example and he puts his body on the line. He does what he has to do to win. And he doesn’t speak. I have kind of a….I run my mouth a lot. And I try to emulate Derek Jeters stoicism. Mohammmed Ali, his confidence, I like. There’s a poster on my ceiling. It’s an Adidias poster, you’ve probably seen it. It says “Impossible is nothing”. It had Mohammed Ali standing over Joe Frasier, they said he wouldn’t beat em. I feel like, I’ve been the underdog my whole life. I’ve always had to work hard, I never been blessed with outright athletic skill. Some people can come off the couch and run a 4.5 (40 yard dash). Not me. I just feel like if somebody tells me no, or I feel like somethings daunting or task is daunting it motivates me to work a little bit harder. I mean, staring at the Mohammad Ali picture makes me feel like I can do anything if he beat up a man that was supposed to end his career. The third person that popped into my mind was, Ma’a Nonu. He’s a 12 for New Zealand (All-Blacks). Generally I play 12 for Tech. That was the position I started off playing. And that’s pretty much the position I know. I’m playing Flanker in this all star game, which I’m pretty excited about. Because I get the ball around people that aren’t as fast as me. But I like his style of play. He’s no selfish at all. He goes into tackles, he takes the hit, he offloads, he rucks, and he doesn’t score that much. I think the best rugby players let their teammates score. If I had a model of any style of play it would be after him. He hits hard, he hits the ruck every time, he runs hard every time, and he offloads. And I try and model my play after him.

GTRN: What has been one of the most satisfying aspects about playing rugby?

AG: Man, I wanna say making the All-Star team. I wanna say scoring my first try. I wanna say running people over. It’s nothing physical, man. It’s camaraderie. It’s knowing that there’s 20 guys in my phone; 15 – 20 guys in my phone that I can call right now and I have a place to sleep. It’s knowing that I can call somebody, and say “I’m having a bad day, lets do a tackling circuit” and we just rip on each other and get it all out. Having a bond, having a brotherhood. I’m an only child, and friendship is really important to me and bonds and loyalty. That is really, really what I find gratifying about rugby. Also, it provides a venue for me to take what i’m learning in the classroom and apply to a passion. Like I said before, I’m a personal trainer, but that’s not my passion. I don’t want to deal with 40 year old women. Training athletes is a passion. Training rugby athletes is even more of a passion because I actually care about this sport, and I wanna see it grow. So, i think, being able to have the opportunity to take what I’m learning in the classroom, apply it to myself, have people see that it’s working, and being able to transpose my knowledge on to them is really what I think is the most satisfying. Being able to lead stretches for the All-Star team, that is the most satisfying moment of my rugby career. Because it’s everything I’ve worked for at school and on the field, and in the gym culminated into one.

GTRN: From Louisiana Tech, who do you feel could have made the All-Star team, but didn’t?

AG: I feel with a little bit of experience anyone of our 30 guys that cycle through the club on any given day could make the team. Our biggest problem that holds us back, and holds everyone on our team back is commitment. I think everybody that comes out to our club is intelligent enough to make the all-star team. Rugby you don’t necessarily have to be the athlete, all though it helps. Intelligence will take you a long way. I think with a little bit of confidence and experience, anyone of our guys can make the team.

GTRN: Anyone that you can think of that is looking to break out on Louisiana Tech team this upcoming season?

AG: Oh Yeah, there is two guys. I feel bad just singling anybody out, because you know we have a great cast of guys. I’m not the captain for Louisiana Tech, well I was for a couple of games. There’s one guy his name is Eric Clark. He’s a student of the game. This kid watches film on top of film on top of film. He actually is my workout partner. He trains with me. He’s on the All-Star team. I think he’s going to have a big year. He plays 13 or 15. He’s gonna have a big year. He’s been watching a lot of games, steadily and getting in really good shape. We have another guy, Tyler Wright. He has a little problem tackling this past season, until we made fun of him. And he started getting low and started hitting people. He spent the summer in New Zealand. He played prop. He actually played the all-star team the first go around and played prop for ’em or hooker. He spent the summer in New Zealand. He’s been in New Zealand since the end of May, and he’s not coming back until the first week of September. And he’s played a full season out there. And their in the playoffs now, and he’s starting every game. And I think playing over there at a club, no matter what level the club is, is going to make you better. Cause those guys have been playing since they were six, man. You get two or three years worth of experience in like 3 or 4 months. I think he’s going to comeback and be a big impact for us this year. And we have this one kid at Plano High, or Plano club or whatever when he was in high school. Man, if this kid could get fit. His name is Kenneth Montgomery, if he can get fit, he will be problem. He will be really good. He just doesn’t workout.

GTRN: Who have been your biggest supporters during your rugby career?

AG: I mean, I could say my girlfriend, but that’s generic. I don’t know, my parents. My dad’s never been to a game, my mom has only seen one Sevens match, and she went and bought me a pair of shoulder pads and left. I don’t know. Honestly, my coach Scott Graham. If you wanna talk about rugby wise that carries over to personal life. Different trials and tribulations, I’d have to say him. He’s in Ireland right now. He played a big part in my life, as I can tell pretty much everyone in the club. He has loads of experience. He’s capped for Ireland and New Zealand. Not at the top level, but he’s played professional rugby. He’s played pretty much at every level you can play in the world, except for the highest level of international rugby. Super League in America, he just has loads and loads of experience. He tells us all the time, “I’m not a rugby coach, i’m a player”. `But him being a player, he relates to us. He relates to where we are. He knows our level and he knows what he can expect and what he can’t expect. He holds us to a high standard, but he works with us on the mistakes that we make from inexperience. He just helps us build. And then whenever there is something else going on with rugby he’s there. If you ever need someone to talk to, he’s there. Whenever you need a ride, he’s there. If you ever need someone to just have a beer with, he’s there. And he’ll talk to you. He has stories for everything. And he’ll talk you out of your worst moods. And rugby is a sport where you’re dealing with every emotion. And having someone that can level you out, bring you through those emotions, especially when they are in a leadership role and they know more than you. It’s good to have somebody like that, that actually cares.

GTRN: When did you become a fan of rugby?

AG: Honestly, before I even played. The first time I ever played rugby, I was about 8 years old. 8 or 9, 10 maybe. And it was at a summer camp. And one of the counselors played rugby. And this was in the 90’s when they didn’t have rules. We had an odd shaped dodge ball. And he was like “here you go, this is a rugby ball. You can pass backwards to whoever you want and the idea is to kill the guy with the ball.” And we were just out there chasing each other, bring each other down, rolling around on the ground, passing backwards, and it was awesome. Then I watched a few matches here and there. You know ESPN shows stuff once in a blue moon, see few things here and there. I had a friend that I worked with at a summer camp, and he played rugby. And this was when I was still really big into baseball. I went to one or two practices with him, but it was in New York, and I was coming back to Louisiana and there was no team here. There was no team at Tech at the moment. I had tried to join the team as soon as I transferred over, but they were actually in the process of being disbanded when I got there. So I went to a couple of practices here and there, in New York. It was fun and I knew I wanted to play…I don’t know, It might have been….It was all the times I played football with no pads with my friends. It was all the times I hated football practice and loved wrestling. It was all those times I was angry and had no way to put my anger out. I went to my first live practice at Tech. And we were hitting and we were tackling, and we were breaking tackles and we were running. And I just had this feeling on top of the world after that. When I found it, and I realized what was going on. I felt complete.

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GTRN: Deep South rugby Conference is planning on moving to division two, and has the possibility of playing for a National Championship in the Fall, how do you feel about that?

AG: The opportunity is amazing to have. The chips are just stacked up against us. We graduated about 4 or 5 starters. We have one guy coming in that played high school rugby. We have enough returners that we could have a full starting side, with some bench players that are returning. But like I said before, commitment. We had some commitment problems last year, so people don’t really have the experience they should. Also the season would start the third week in September. We start school September 5th, which is a Thursday. Which gives us, pretty much, a week before the season of people having to be there to practice. We’re actually, right now, in the process of scrambling to get things together so we can have that season. Then, the second half of it is, because we’re on a quarter system. So we start late and end early. We’re taking finals during the playoff time. And the National Championship, or whatever it would be, after we won our conference, is like, the weekend of Finals. We would be in Colorado Saturday, and somehow have to take finals on Monday. Louisiana Tech is primarily and engineering school, and engineering is really hard at this school. And if we have, last year towards the end of the season, we lost our pack. Our true starting props and a winger were all senior engineering majors. And they just couldn’t make some games, and that hurt us. So, honestly, I’m not to excited about it. I think it’s a great opportunity, and i’m glad that it’s happening for everybody else, but it’s inconvenient for us.

GTRN: Thank you for talking with us

AG: No problem, thank you.

The Deep South All-Stars will be playing at 1:30pm, Saturday, August 15th, on the Practice Field #2 next to Blackbaud Stadium. Gift-Time Rugby Network will post a replay of the game later in the week here. Score updates can be found on the Gift-Time Rugby Network Twitter and Facebook page.

Interview by Gift Egbelu

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