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.
Gerardo Abascal plays for the University of Louisiana Lafayette Ragin Cajun Rugby club. The Ragin Cajun took the Deep South Conference Championship title this past 2012 rugby season. He has been a part of the Cajuns for just one season, but out of that first season he managed to find himself a spot on the Deep South Conference All-Star squad. As he is the only player from ULL to be on the roster, we wanted to catch up with him and talk to him about being able to play against the Southern Conference this weekend, rugby at ULL, and life as a rugby.
GTRN: How do you feel about being selected to the Deep South All-Stars?
GA: Well, I don’t know, I’m very happy with it. It’s a very unique opportunity to go play in Charleston, SC right before the USA/Canada game. And then you go with all the people you have played against in your conference. You make a team with all the players from this conference. I don’t know, if feels to play with other people, people I usually play against.
GTRN: Is this your first selection on to the All-Star list?
GA: Yes, Yes
GTRN: What are you hoping to take away from doing this game?
GA: More experience. I don’t know, maybe there’s some recruiters. I think there are going to be recruiters for coaches of the Deep South (Panthers) Rugby team. So, you know, just experience and recruitment. Maybe not just start a rugby career, but maybe get a higher level.
GTRN: Is that what you’re hoping to do. Maybe be able to play top level rugby?
GA: Oh yes! Yes, yes.
GTRN: What did it mean to you to be able to win the Deep South Conference with ULL this past year?
GA: Well, it was last season. It was my first season playing at UL. Winning that was just great. I mean, just, we didn’t start the season that very good. We lost the first game. But then the team came together, and it was like my first season with UL, I had no experience with the guys and everything. It was a great experience. More than just rugby experience. It was a really fun experience for the team. It was very exciting being my first season with the team. Going to win the conference, I think it built a lot of bond, you know, between the teammates. I would guess you could always get from winning the conference.
GTRN: Did you feel like that win was significant, despite not getting into the round of 16?
GA: Not being able to play for Regionals kind of took away a little of that motivation that we had coming from winning the conference. But now, we’ll probably gonna be D2, we might play this fall, the regular season. So I think we’re all gonna be more inspired or pumped up about it. Like I said, at the beginning, we didn’t start off right. The team came together and everything. That’s what we’re thinking now, we can just start, like, getting two championships back to back. And get UL rugby more recognized and maybe Deep South. Cause this year we didn’t have a chance to go to Regionals, but hopefully we will again hopefully be able to go to Regionals and nationals and all that stuff. I think what it does, I think this motivation to keep pushing ourselves to get back to back titles and keep bonding.
GTRN: What are some of the pregame rituals you do?
GA: Usually I don’t go out the day before. Before the game, individually, I don’t just don’t go out the day before. If the game is Saturday, Friday I just won’t do anything. I’ll find some good rugby games and watch them, and get my head straight into rugby. Wake up the next morning, get to the pitch. First of all I always eat bananas. I just always eat bananas, and just, from the day before I don’t think about anything else but the game. Usually that helps me keep me focused in the game.
GTRN: Do you emulate the style of play of anyone?
GA: Like professional rugby players?
GTRN: It doesn’t necessarily have to be rugby, just any sport that inspires the way you play on the field.
GA: It depends what position i’m playing. One of my favorite players for all-time would be Brian O’Driscoll. I like his decision making. I wanna have that quickness, and he has all that ability. That is one of the players I’d always look up too. He would be one of my idols, you could say. He’s just an awesome player. He just has great decision making, and has gone so far.
GTRN: Is there any workout or training that you do for the season or games?
GA: I started doing Crossfit. It’s just a full workout. Whenever I don’t do Crossfit, I focus more on bench press and squats. Those are the basics. Like whenever I go to the gym and I don’t feel like working out too much, I just want a quick workout, I just workout bench press, squats and back.
GTRN: What is the most satisfying aspects of playing rugby?
GA: I don’t think it’s like playing one game that gets you into rugby. Rugby’s not just to play, Rugby involves everything. Like, working hard, and playing on the field. And playing with your rugby boys. It’s like a lifestyle. Not so much like that, it’s not just for the game, it’s for everything that surrounds the game. The third half with your buddies at the pub. At practice pushing yourself. And the thing that really catches me during the game is that it’s a non-stop game. Every game you play, you don’t play individually, you have to play with 15 hearts cause that’s what playing on your team. Cause that’s what gets me, you know, there’s a lot of connection between your friends, on and off the field.
GTRN: What has been the most difficult about playing rugby?
GA: I actually find things more easier that you can identify in rugby. To be honest, what’s been difficult for me is gaining weight. But that’s just for my body type. The good thing, what makes it easier in rugby, you can identify; I haven’t been able to identify all my mistakes, I can focus on one at a time. But you can identify, like, when you miss tackles you practice on tackles. When you throw a wrong pass in a game, you start practicing more on your passing. You can identify your mistakes by yourself. You don’t need someone to be like telling you your mistakes. I think that’s an advantage of it. I don’t see many downfalls in rugby for me.
GTRN: What was one of the best games that you had?
GA: I would say, my best game was the championship game. Because we had to play two games in one day. So we played first against Tulane. We had to put a lot of effort into that game, cause we made some mistakes. But I think my best game was the actual championship game against West Florida. Because we had the disadvantage in that game. We all knew it. But we were motivated from the day before, we had just won. It was the final, we were kind of tired. I think at that moment when we realized we had the disadvantage of playing that game, I think that’s when we got more motivated. That game was an awesome game, because everyone played with straight hearts. Everybody was gassed out. Everybody was tired. We weren’t running as much. But we just played our hearts. The whole team played with hearts the whole game. So I think that was a cool game.
GTRN: Who is someone else on your team should have made the All-Star list but didn’t make it?
GA: OH YES! The reason that some of the UL guys didn’t make it, was because I was the only guy from UL that traveled to training camp. Since we are one of the farthest, ULL is four hours, four and half hours from Mobile. So we had to drive four and half hours to Mobile. I think that’s one of the reason ULL players couldn’t go. I wouldn’t like to name players because I’d like to name my whole squad. Everyone worked so hard over the season. You know we had some very good stand out players like our scrum half, Corey Albert. He’s one of the players that lead the team a lot. One of our flankers, AJ, he was an inspiration to the team. We also have creative guys that lead the backline, like SeaBass, Sebastian (Holley). I think those three guys would have start things off, if they would have gone to selection camp.
GTRN: How long have you been playing Rugby?
GA: I’ve been playing little bit over two years. I started in 2011 in Guatemala my senior year of high school.
GTRN: Who have been your biggest supporters?
GA: That has definitely been my parents, mostly my dad. He always supported me in all sports that I did. And when I started playing rugby, he’d take me to practice, and to the game. He didn’t understand at first, but he loved the game. So, he’s just support me throughout my two and half years of playing. So, I think that’s been a big help. Also my coaches. When I started playing rugby, I didn’t know much. My coaches, like, the way I played. So my coaches in Guatemala started playing me a lot. Putting me on the starting team and stuff like that. So that was a big help. I played in Baton Rouge a little a bit. I got a starting position, than I played at UL, I got a starting position. I think the coaches have all helped me to stay motivated to keep playing rugby and keep working hard to get a starting position.
GTRN: What can you do to improve your game?
GA: Well, I think it’s more practice. Practice will lead you to the best thing. If I practice rugby twice a week, try and get some people so I can practice three and four times a week. The more you practice, the easier it is on game day. So, I think that’s the only way to get better. Practice, and Practice, and Practice.
GTRN: What are some goals you are trying to achieve personally and with ULL next season?
GA: Well, this season playing at ULL, I think I’d have to change positions because we just lost a lot of forwards. One of the things I’ll be looking for would be moving to some position like fly-half probably. That would be nice. I love playing that position. That’s the position I played when we played the game with All-Stars against Battleship. And I really enjoyed it. And since all our seniors graduated, I probably gonna be playing…I want to play fly-half with UL. I’m not saying i’m going to be playing, but I want to. But that’s probably one of my goals, and then you play flyhalf you kind of lead the backline, and a lot of what the team does. So, uh, hopefully I’d like to be an important person on UL getting a title two years in a row. And then as for goals after playing with UL, well, I’ll have to see. I don’t know if I’m gonna stay in the states. I might go to Guatemala. They formed, last year, their national team. I couldn’t practice with them cause I’m going to college here. But I might go back to Guatemala, or I might play here. I don’t know yet. I still have three years to play.
GTRN: Is there anything you’d like people to expect from the Deep South All-Star team?
GA: I do want to thank the coaches, and all the Deep South staff, because they’re just pushing rugby forward in the south. They’re creating games, events, just getting people involved in rugby. I love it. I love that this sport might get big one day in the states. That’ll be pretty awesome, you know. I just thank the coaches. Deep South rugby staff deserves a big chant for pushing the rugby in the south so much.
GTRN: Gerardo, I appreciate it again, man.
GA: You’re welcome. Anytime, man.
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