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MILES CRAIGWELL: Match Point

While Miles Craigwell may have started his professional athletic career in the NFL, these days, at 6’2″ and 205 pounds, he’s commanding the field as a Wing for the Team USA’s Rugby squad.

Words: Jason Weintraub
Images: Courtesy of the US Embassy New Zealand

The NFL is by far America’s most popular sport, bringing fans, family and sports enthusiasts together for a common cause every Sunday faithfully. For most Americans like Miles Craigwell, the NFL is part of that dream that starts out sometime during elementary school and ends on draft day, with you taking a picture alongside the commissioner. But does anyone ever mention what happens post football? Like when cuts, injuries and challenges within the league send many phenomenal players jobless, searching for a new team. While the future may have looked grim for many players, Miles saw it as an opportunity, the beginning of a new dream.

“The NFL wasn’t working and I wasn’t getting anything concrete,” Miles says. “I started saying maybe I’m not good enough, but because of my athleticism and everything I’ve been through, I knew I could play a sport but just didn’t know what.”

As a college star at Brown University, the future looked bright for the linebacker until he was released from the Miami Dolphins just last year. Like many players who find themselves in this situation, Miles was confused and uncertain as to what to do next. But as he explains, sometimes everything happens for a reason. “We were in Boston at a dinner and on TV there was a rugby tournament, and for some reason my eye caught the TV. I was really intrigued by the sport and thought to myself this was something I can do. That day I contacted my agent and we got in touch with the USA head coach, and from there on, it was a fast-paced introduction to
the game.”

After training that summer with the New York Rugby Athletic Club, Miles realized that his pure athleticism wasn’t going to be enough to transition him onto the American National Rugby team. “Other than not having pads, the fitness level is the biggest difference [between] football and rugby. I played football and track so I know what it’s like to be an elite athlete, but Rugby 7’s is a totally different thing. [In] My first rugby game with the New York Rugby Athletics Club, I gave the coach one good minute and was asking for subs. The coach said there are no subs, so after that game I knew I had to get fitter and I realized the real challenge of playing this sport.”

Of course learning a new sport is vigorous for a newcomer who’s had his hopes set in a different league, but rugby definitely had its fair share of perks that most NFL players will never experience. “There is no price you can put on traveling the world and playing a sport that I now genuinely love, and it’s something you really can’t find in any sport. I truly feel like it was a blessing in disguise and has been a real surreal experience.”

Playing matches in New Zealand, Australia and throughout Europe, Miles, #25, is now a top-seated player, after diving head first into the mechanics and culture of rugby during his foray into the league. “Football fans are crazy, but there is nothing like international sports fans. They’ve got costumes, they are drunk and they are out for the whole day! I mean early in the morning all the way until night— international fans are really supportive,” he says of the passionate fans he believes helped make him a star on the field. “On any stage you feed on the crowd and it makes you run faster and hit harder. [But] It was pretty intense for me to play in a stadium with thousands of people cheering for your team and you.”

Another perk for Miles’ career changing move aside from extending his career as a pro in a different competitive sport, may very well be the fact that his stint in this game may last longer than the average player’s NFL run overall. While the NFL features some of the biggest and the mightiest on the planet, gruesome hits and the threat of highly competitive younger players emerging every year causes many players to retire early. “I definitely think there is longevity in rugby. Right now I’m starting at wing, which is the speedster and when it deteriorates, I can move [in]to a forward position. I also feel like I can transition over to 15’s where it’s a little slower but has bigger guys.”

Well on his way in the world of rugby, Miles is more appreciative every day for his decision to relinquish his old dreams for a brighter future. This September, Miles, who often goes by his nickname Five2Eighty (for how many steps it takes to walk a mile), will be repping Team USA in the Pan American games. In November, he will tour 10 countries in four weeks as part of the IRB, better known as the Rugby World Cup. Yet even with these upcoming challenges and a new sense of purpose, Miles has managed to keep one goal steady through it all: to be the best. “I’ve taken away so much within the past year and I’m trying to take in so much from the game and coaches. I really want to make this my breakout year and, God willing, everything goes well.”

Images courtesy of the US Embassy New Zealand.

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