Perhaps the most underrated physically demanding sport in the world is rugby. The amount of pure grit, athleticism, and toughness to play at a high level is almost incomprehensible. If you don’t want to take my word for it, perhaps you’ll listen to Coronado resident and recent 18-U Rugby National Champion Nico DiMatteo.
For Nico, Rugby has always been his first love. “I started playing the game when I was 8-years-old and just fell in love with the sport. My dad first introduced it to me. I think the speed, contact, and physical nature of the game are really what drew me in. I played football, baseball, and other sports, but there is just something about the team atmosphere in rugby that makes it so special,” said DiMatteo.
For some kids growing up, physical contact and running people over isn’t always the most appealing thing in the world, but to Nico, it’s just another reason to love the sport. “I’m not the biggest guy out there, but I love the challenge of having to go hit and tackle guys that are bigger than me. For me, the physical part of the game is what makes it so appealing. I mean you can be running around and hit guys and then go shake hands and be friends after the game. It’s really unique to the sport.”
But rugby isn’t just a sport that Nico is passionate about, he also happens to be one of the most talented and skilled players in the state of California. For the past year, DiMatteo has been playing with the club team the San Diego Mustangs, one of the premier club rugby teams in San Diego county.
Nico joined the team after Covid cut off his high school season. “So my sophomore year I moved schools to La Jolla. But because of the pandemic, we lost out on our season. But with the club season still going on a lot of the guys on the La Jolla team were playing for the Mustangs. So I went and joined them as well. It was a really easy switch and you could see the team chemistry really quickly.”
The chemistry that Nico felt would prove to be very real in the coming months. After a wildly successful season for both Nico and the Mustangs as a whole, the team earned entry into the U18 Rugby National Championship. The Boys High School Rugby National Championships is an annual tournament that hosts the 24 most elite high school and U-18 club teams for a three-day competition.
Teams are divided into three competition brackets: Single School teams, Multiple School Club teams, and a Tier II competition. The three brackets compete independently of each other, and three separate champions are crowned. In this tournament, Nico and the Mustangs competed in the Tier II competition. “To be able to go there and compete at that level around so many talented players was unbelievable,” said Nico. “I never get nervous before my games, but I was just a little nervous heading into our first tournament games.”
But even if those nerves existed, they never showed in Nico’s play on the field. DiMatteo not only flourished in his traditional role but also stepped up for the Mustangs when one of his teammates went down. “In the first game one of my teammates got knocked out and I had to assume all of his kicking responsibilities, which added a little more pressure, but I think at the end of the day that added pressure helped me to play at my best.”
If you need more evidence, all one has to do is look to the second game of the tournament when he broke off a massive 40-yard try-run to help the Mustangs ice their lead vs. Raleigh, the #2 team in North Carolina at the time.
DiMatteo’s excellent play would carry over into the tournament finals, where he would continue to fly all over the field and help the Mustangs defeat Tempe, the top-ranked team in the State of Arizona. “It was such a huge moment to win the championships,” said DiMatteo “The way that the game ended with us getting one last defensive stop was incredible. It was great to celebrate it as a team on something we worked so hard together to achieve. The whole experience is something that I will never forget and just showed how much hard work and dedication pays off.”
Nico’s talent and drive as a rugby player are truly remarkable. But even with the 2021 national championship under his belt the Coronado Local remains hungry to keep getting better, telling me he hopes to be back at the National Championships next year to help the Mustangs defend their title.
Nico’s rugby future is bright and one that fellow Coronadans should follow closely.