Connecting with a college team’s current players can be a great way to get a feel for a program, so in June 2015 we interviewed Golden Bears Matthew Coyle and James Kondrat to learn more about what life is like at Cal.
Take It From Us: Q&A with Current Cal Players
Rugger’s Edge: So, let’s start back in high school – Tell us a little about your recruitment process.
Matthew: Going into my junior and senior years of high school, I attended Cal’s summer rugby camp with the hopes of being recruited. A few months after the camp, I went back to meet the coaches and tour the campus. When it became clear it was a good match, the coaches encouraged me to take some time to reflect before getting back to them, but I was certain and called back immediately after my visit.
James: When I began my college search, I spoke to my rugby coaches and asked which schools I should be targeting for a high-quality education and high-quality rugby. Since I was at Xavier High School, I was fortunate enough to play for Coach Mike Tolkin, the future coach of the U.S. National Team, and he asked if I had thought about the University of California. I told him no, I thought it was out of my reach, but after he reached out to Coach Clark, Coach Billups and Coach Figone, we planned a visit. When I spoke with the coaches and got a tour, I absolutely fell in love and once the opportunity presented itself, I made the commitment.
Rugger’s Edge: Now that you’re here, what does the school week usually look like for you?
Matthew: A typical day begins at 8:30 a.m. with the start of practice. Players usually get up to Witter Rugby Field early to begin warming up and working on skills prior to practice. On-field training usually runs until 10 a.m. and is followed by strength-and-conditioning maintenance sessions a couple days a week at the high-performance center. After practice, I attend my classes for the day. It is great to have my rugby finished early and have all day for classes and study. All day I am fueling my body with healthy foods and at the end of the day, I’m always ready for a good night’s rest.
Rugger’s Edge: How about weekends?
James: Matches are on Saturday and film and regeneration on Sunday. After morning training sessions, I go to class and have time to do other things. On match days that we host, it’s an all-day affair, as we set up and break down the field. After film and regeneration on Sundays, I crack down on my studies.
Rugger’s Edge: Clearly, Cal is known for its academic rigor. How do you balance schoolwork and rugby?
Matthew: At certain times over the course of the year, it has been extremely difficult to balance both school and rugby. However, Cal has given me the support network to make it possible to excel in the classroom and in my sport. On the rugby team, it is mandatory to meet regularly with our academic advisor. We are also able to sign up with tutors in each of our classes to help us with our studies. One step that has helped me personally is taking the time to meet individually with my professors during their office hours. Putting in that extra effort has made a big difference.
James: The structure that the rugby program gives me – with set practice times, set times in the high-performance center and open times to get extra work in – really puts me in good position in terms of planning my classes. When it comes to managing it, whenever I get really stressed at school and there are a bunch of tests coming up, I go into the gym or up to the field and I run or I work out, and that physical activity reduces stress while getting extra work in for rugby.
Rugger’s Edge: Do you ever have time to do anything else besides rugby?
Matthew: Though rugby takes up a great deal of time outside of school, there still is enough time to get involved with other activities both on and off campus. Many athletes are involved with GBAC, a student athlete leadership program, as well as several other clubs around campus. Some of my teammates also work jobs outside of school and rugby.
James: I actually do find time to do other things. Right now, I’m part of the Berkeley Investment Group, a small finance and trading group on campus. I’ve also participated in the Sage Mentorship Program, in which I mentored a 5th grader from Oakland three times a week. The schedule is rigorous at Cal, but you do find time to explore your interests.
Rugger’s Edge: What advice do you have for high school players who are interested in Cal?
Matthew: I would advise them to attend the Nike Cal Varsity Rugby Camp and to practice their skills before the camp begins. All of the reps and touches of the ball will help when it is time to showcase talent. Watching professional or big-time collegiate games can also help mature a player’s game.
James: Don’t sell yourself short. I thought that Cal was way out of my reach. I knew the calibers of academics and rugby that went into it, and when I was in high school, I thought wasn’t capable. Just give yourself a shot. Throw your name in the hat. It’s a great experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.