The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Former professional rugby player coaches GV club rugby team

Courtesy | GVSU

While Grand Valley State University is well-recognized for its high-achieving DII football team, a much less widely known sport is gaining popularity as a club team at GVSU. Rugby, a close contact sport somewhat similar to football in score and objective, found a home at GVSU in 1998 and is still active on campus today. 

Back-to-back Great Lakes Conference Champions, the men’s rugby club team currently sits at No. 11 in the DII ranking done by National Collegiate Rugby, up from #15 at the beginning of the season. This season alone, they defeated the University of Notre Dame’s B side 47-15, thrashed rivals Central Michigan University with a final score of 36-5 and faced off against Ferris State University to clinch a playoff spot after winning the game, 54-12.  

Boasting an organization of around 40 players and climbing quickly up the ranks of the DII division, the GVSU men’s rugby club team has its eyes set on the prize. The team is energized and determined under the direction of new Assistant Coach Sam Motari. 

A graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in cybersecurity, Motari joined the technical bench to coach the club team in the winter semester of 2023, working alongside head coach John Mullet and assistant coach Randy McGregor.

Motari is a lifelong rugby player, starting off young in his home country of Kenya. He represented Kenya on their national team multiple times, starting when he was in eighth grade playing for the under 19 team in 2011. Motari went on to play five international matches for the team and continued on, getting called up to play various times throughout 2011-2018.

Motari played crucial roles in several international tournaments, including the Kenya Sevens, Dubai Sevens and South Africa Sevens. The team Motari was a part of won the Singapore Sevens championship with the Kenya National Team in 2016. 

“Playing at the highest level in Kenya is good,” Motari said. “We have a good community, a great support system, and a lot of professionals in the field; you’ll always have a backbone to rest on, and a good network of professionals you can rely on in your career.”

During his time in school, Motari played with his college team and two club teams near his home. In late 2019, he sustained some injuries, and soon after, COVID-19 hit all over the globe. He decided to pursue his education and eventually came to the United States to obtain his master’s degree in cybersecurity at GVSU. Despite this life change, Motari said playing at that highest level in Kenya is an experience that will never be forgotten for him.

“It’s different going to international tournaments and facing actual professionals and realizing that their level of preparation is different from yours,” Motari said. “We always put our best foot forward, but it was always a challenge. It was always good to try and challenge ourselves to bring the best out of the little resources we had and play the best at that high level consistently.”

Motari started off as a player for the GVSU Men’s rugby club team. After the team dominated against CMU in a match in the fall of 2022, a formal complaint was submitted to National Collegiate Rugby by CMU about whether or not Motari could play. Following a lack of response from National Collegiate Rugby, he stepped down from his position on the field and looked toward how he could benefit the team in other ways by coaching. 

Being on the other side of the game has been a challenge for Motari.

“I swallowed my pride and started giving back,” Motari said. “I’ve had to take time and digest a lot of the knowledge that I have and think of the best ways to put it across to the students. Hats off to the boys, they’re really fast learners.” 

Despite this adjustment, Motari adapted quickly. He strongly believes that in order to bring out the best in players, a coach must understand that they are not tools, but people and that you have to connect to them in a person. Motari feels the biggest accomplishment as a coach comes from passing knowledge to the next generation. 

“It gives me the satisfaction of, even if I’m not playing, (that) I’m building someone else to be a good player or have the opportunity that I never had. Rugby is a fast-growing sport in the U.S., and there’s a lot of opportunities out there,” Motari said. 

It further trains and pushes the team in the sport, Motari held running practice sessions once a week. Additionally, he pushed them to work with local clubs in their home cities through the summer.

“When they came back in the fall, the entire team was transformed. They’re playing at a different level,” Motari said. “We’ve leveled up to D1 ability now, it’s just unfortunate that we’re not playing at that level (in conferences). If you look at all the games we played in our conference, we’re whooping all the teams easily, fifty-plus. This is because we have skilled players, good coaching and good tactics.” 

Nicolas Delibero, senior and president of club rugby this year, has been playing rugby for six years. He started playing in his senior year of high school and joined the rugby club team his freshman year after hearing that the team was going to play Notre Dame.

Though he’s not yet sure if he’ll continue with rugby past graduation, it has been life-changing throughout his college career. 

“My favorite thing about being at GV is being on the rugby team. All the guys are great, the coaches are great too. It’s just the camaraderie of being on the team,” Delibero said. “We have a great player development system here at GV, we can turn anyone into a capable player, no matter what sports you played before. We’re always looking for more guys to join the team because that’s just more guys to play and hang out with.” 

Delibero said working under Motari has been a major game-changer for the team. He said Motari’s system for play strategies has the team playing “not just above the other teams in our conference but to the point where we now have a program instead of just having a team.”

“Having his experience at practice has shifted the landscape of the team,” Delibero said. “It’s very exciting to be a part of GV Rugby right now and one of the main reasons for that is Coach Sam (Motari).”

Currently, Motari is hoping to move from a club team into a varsity team at GVSU. 

“That’ll make the sport grow in leaps and bounds. At this point, we are beating teams in varsity programs, easy,” Motari said. 

It’s unknown how long it would take to transform the club team into a varsity team at GVSU, or even if it’s possible, but both the players and coaches are crossing their fingers. 

“We never know how far we’ll go, so we just keep going,” Motari says. “We never know who’s watching.”

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