Malacchi Esdale dreamed of playing college sports, so he moved from his home state of Delaware to Florida, a state known for producing top athletes.
Esdale moved in with his grandmother in Naples before his freshman year to play soccer and basketball at Naples High School. He never thought that his trip to Naples would lead him to the Olympics
And he couldn’t have dreamed of the sport that would make him an Olympian.
“I never heard of rugby when I moved to Florida,” Esdale said in a telephone interview from Japan. “I tried when I was in Naples and immediately thought, ‘Man, this is the best sport.'”
Esdale, 25, is in Tokyo with the United States men’s national rugby team. Team USA is one of 12 teams competing for gold medal at the Olympics starting Monday.
As a junior in Naples in the fall of 2011, Esdale caught 17 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns. That spring he joined the Naples Bears rugby club and fell in love with the sport.
Esdale moved back to Delaware for his senior year. With the chance of getting a college scholarship to play football, he stayed on the grid at Appoquinimink High in Middletown
After playing soccer at ASA College in New York, Esdale moved to the University of Miami to try and play. When it didn’t work out, he moved to UCF just to be a student.
After the football was gone, Esdale returned to rugby, which he hadn’t played in those few games with the Naples Bears. He played for the UCF club team before joining the Orlando Griffins, who are part of the 40-year-old Orlando Rugby Football Club.
“I only played three or four games in high school, but I loved the sport so much,” said Esdale. “It always had a place in my heart.”
In 2017 Esdale made his love for work. At that point, major league rugby began with seven teams and Esdale found a spot with the Houston SaberCats for the 2018 opening season. He played as a wing / center with the SaberCats for the past three years.
In Tokyo, Esdale is a traveling reserve for Team USA. That said, he’s not currently in the 12 active players, but it could be activated at some point during the games. Before each day of competition, each rugby sevens team (they play 7-on-7, while other rugby tournaments are 15-on-15) names their 12-man squad from their pool of players, which includes Esdale.
“I have to be ready,” said Esdale. “That was the narrative of my trip last year. If something gets in my way, I have to take the opportunity and use it. “
That was the case at a warm-up tournament in England in May. Esdale played for the men’s seven-man team and was the tournament’s leading try-scorer. An attempt in rugby is when a player brings the ball over the goal line, like a touchdown in football.
Men’s rugby, added to the Olympics in 2016 for the first time since 1924, is a short-lived event in the Games. Each team plays two games on Monday, one on Tuesday, then the top eight play in the quarter-finals on Tuesday afternoon. The semi-finals and medal games are Wednesday.
Esdale is dying to fight for a gold medal. Personally, he hopes to prove himself in order to later get a place on the Olympic team in 2024.
“It’s a crazy man,” said Esdale of his trip to the Olympics. “I’m looking forward to this chance. I am allowed to represent my country and my family and friends who support me. I’ve smiled since I was selected (for Team USA). It is a great feeling that is difficult to put into words. “
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