To make a provincial team it usually requires years of dedication and training — it’s generally not something an athlete walks on to after just picking up the sport a few months earlier.
But when it comes to rugby and Lindsay Thurber Raider Michael Soley, something just clicked.
The 15-year-old prop just finished his first season of high school rugby — helping the Raiders to an undefeated regular season and a provincial bronze medal — but now finds himself as the starter for Rugby Alberta’s U16 team and preparing for the National Festival in Markham, Ont., starting on Saturday and running through Aug. 12.
“I was really surprised because I just started playing this year, and most of the guys on the team have been playing for three or more years,” said Soley, who is also Red Deer’s lone representative on the team.
But he likely wouldn’t be on the team if a Raiders teammate — Grady Bowd — hadn’t convinced him to look into things while at a tournament with the Raiders. Later, a conversation with an Alberta Rugby coach found himself in the tryout process.
The next surprise was making the 30-man roster, but he was going to make it tough for them to cut him.
“I just bring everything I have out (onto the pitch),” he said. “I only have one strength, I guess. I’ve just got to bring it all out there.”
While six-foot-three, 218 pounds is a good size for a grown man — let alone a 15 year-old high school kid — he is still the smallest prop on the team by a long shot.
The prop is generally one of the most physically demanding positions on the pitch as they play the frontline on a scrum and provide ground support on lineouts.
“I’m a little quicker, I think . . . the next closest prop is about 250 pounds,” said Soley.
Soley, though, has an athletic background that has helped develop his power, strength, and toughness as he also plays football, wrestles and plays in the Red Deer Pond Hockey League.
But now he has a new love.
“Rugby’s most definitely my favourite,” said Soley.
“I like the intensity of it. There’s so much to think about and do while you’re doing it. It’s so physical and mental at the same time. It is so intense.”
It is a sport Soley sees himself in for the long haul, eventually chasing a spot on the senior national team.
“I really want to see if the college or university I go to has a rugby team to join, and I also want to go on Team Canada. I think that would be a real cool thing,” he said.
Team Alberta has spent the past month or so practising twice a week — usually at the Titans Rugby Park south of Red Deer — as it prepares for the National Festival.
The festival hosts the national championship tournaments for the U16 men, U17 women and U19 women.
Alberta opens the schedule against Saskatchewan on Saturday morning and then play British Columbia in the afternoon. On Sunday they play Ontario and Newfoundland.
“We all fit in pretty good. We are coming together pretty good,” said Soley.
“I really want us to win, we definitely have a strong team. We have a lot of potential and a lot of skill, so hopefully we’ll bring back a medal.”