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Finding a new way to play

Former Valencia football player Letz has continued his athletic career — but not on the gridiron

Posted: October 12, 2009 11:12 p.m.
Updated: October 13, 2009 4:55 a.m.

In this undated photo, Valencia graduate and Los Angeles Cougar Cody Letz, left, tries to evade a member of the Bellmont Shores in Fullerton.

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When Valencia graduate Cody Letz hung up his football cleats for the last time, he knew it would be tough to put sports behind him.

“I knew I wanted to play sports in college,” he says. “I was just really into the whole team thing and the togetherness. I was a captain there and pretty involved.”

Letz was a three-year varsity center for the Vikings, and he was named to the All-CIF Southern Section-Northern Division team on offense last year as a senior.

Despite his athleticism, Letz says he realized a while back that his 6-foot, 200-pound frame probably wouldn’t lead to a college football scholarship offer.

But that didn’t necessarily close the door on collegiate athletics.

Letz, who has been playing organized rugby since seventh grade, began to look online for schools that had strong programs in the sport.

His parents put together a tape of Letz playing with his club team and sent it to different colleges.

“His mom and I were looking on the Internet to find a college that had his major and a rugby team,” says Cody’s father, Damon. “We sent out some video of him playing and one of the schools that responded was Arizona State University.”

As an aspiring firefighter who loves rugby, Letz says Arizona State is the perfect combination for him.

It offers fire science as a potential major and the opportunity to keep playing sports in a strong program.

Letz’s interest in rugby began in junior high after a friend returned from a trip to England with the oval rugby ball. A few rowdy backyard pickup games led to Letz and his group of friends trying to find a local club team to play for.

While looking for a recreational league, the group stumbled upon the Hart District Wildcats, a now-defunct organization that participated in a Pop Warner-type competition on the rugby field, or “pitch” as it is commonly referred to.

After Letz began playing for the Los Angeles Cougars in high school, an under-19 club rugby team, Damon says he began to notice a heightened interest in rugby in his son.

“That’s when he really started to develop,” Damon says. “They had six coaches out there and he loved it.”

Letz and a few of his friends stayed involved in rugby, and some of his former Vikings football teammates are even collegiate rugby rivals — namely Spencer Buckley, who plays at California State University, Long Beach, and Lucas Mendez, who plays for the University of Arizona.

Letz says Arizona State offered a greater possibility of furthering his rugby career.

The Sun Devils’ rugby coaching staff features Salty Thompson, an assistant who is now retired from the international rugby scene after coaching the USA National Men’s under-20 team.

The program also offers a unique travel opportunity due to an exchange program set up by head coach Gary Lane.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to travel abroad and we do exchanges with top clubs worldwide,” Lane says.

“If a player is dedicated enough, he can be put into a squad and go to Australia, New Zealand or the U.K. and train at high-performance clinics, better their rugby and also get the education that they need.” 

Lane said it’s a great opportunity for the players because Arizona State accepts units that are earned overseas through the program.

“You get an education while training with some of the best coaches in the world,” Lane says in reference to the program’s participants, a list that includes University of Queensland in Australia, the University of Waikato in New Zealand and the University of Leicester in England.

One of the major differences with how rugby is treated at the collegiate level is scholarship opportunities.

Because it is not currently an NCAA-sanctioned sport, scholarships and grants are still awarded.

But at Arizona State University, funding is awarded on a merit basis after a player’s freshman year.

“The coach explained it to me as making sure the players were going to stay with the team and earn their scholarship,” Damon says.

But having to work for the opportunity doesn’t seem to faze Letz one bit.

“(Playing rugby) has been great,” Letz says. “I’m loving it. It’s not a well-known sport, so a lot of people don’t have an interest in it. It’s not like football, but the experience has been great.”

Although still in preseason training as a freshman, Letz has already carved out big goals for himself in the sport of rugby.

“I want to play at the professional level and get on to the Olympic team,” Letz says. “That is my dream, if I could make a career out of this.”

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