When West Potomac’s Darien Pickett received the invitation to try out for the U.S. High School All-American Rugby Team, he didn’t realize how huge of an opportunity he was receiving.
“At first I didn’t know what it meant and didn’t have anything to say. When I looked into it, I just felt honored that I was chosen by the selectors after they watched the past games from early June,” said Pickett.
The first time Pickett ever played rugby was three years ago. Freshman football head Coach Dale Roach — who also coaches the U19 high school rugby team the Fort Hunt Warriors — noticed Pickett’s skills on the football field and suggested he try playing rugby as well.
“He said I should try out for rugby because it would be a lot of fun and it’s exactly like football,” said Pickett. “I gave it a shot and I instantly loved it. It’s like my second favorite sport next to football.”
Pickett plays flanker for the Fort Hunt Warriors and said everything about rugby made him stick with it for the past two years. Playing with a team to reach the same goal and the high-intensity atmosphere are aspects he looks forward to each time he hits the rugby field.
Roach and Varsity Football Head Coach Jeremiah Davis said they agree that rugby makes better football players and vice versa. Roach said football is about teamwork, discipline and sacrifice which are all necessities in rugby as well. Rugby helps build confidence and aggression and football uses that aggression, Roach explained.
The two coaches said Pickett is a prime example of a great player who transfers his skills between the two sports.
“His body control, ball skills, his reaction to movement and how to play with a group of people are all skills that come from rugby,” said Davis. “It just translates well. He plays without pads [in rugby], and that takes some individual determination and he has no problem making contact.”
Pickett said he enjoys rugby because he can get his hands on the ball and run with it. But rugby assists in his tackling game as a middle linebacker and left guard when playing football.
“I transition the [rugby] skills because for tackling you have to stay inside of the player’s hip and that relates to middle linebacker when you have to follow the wide receiver’s hip or the running back’s hip to get the tackle,” said Pickett.
Pickett said he’s a little nervous about trying out for the U.S. High School All-American Rugby Team because he’s going up against a lot of great players in the country.
“I don’t know what I’m going up against,” Pickett said. “I’m going up with different players from around the country, so I’ll have to step my game up and just go hard and prove myself.”
Pickett said he thinks his power and speed will make him stand out during the tryouts. Roach said Pickett has an advantage because he’s in a position usually for “big, slow guys,” but his speed and ball skills will help him make an impression.
“The position Darien plays is usually for big, heavy kids that push other people around,” said Roach. “Darien with a ball in his hand or tackling out in the open field looks different than all the kids in his position. They pretty much pointed him out and said, ‘He’s different.’”
Pickett was selected for the Virginia U-17 Rugby All-stars last year. He also attended the East Coast High School Rugby All-star Tournament last summer where his play was noticed by the Selectors and Coaches of the High School All-American (HSAA) National team.
From this multi-state All-Star Tournament, he was selected to attend the National Camp in December to try out for the High School All-American (HSAA) rugby team for the U.S. Pickett will try out at Arizona State University, Dec. 26-31.