Though he was recently selected a U.S. collegiate All-American for his play with the Saint Mary's College rugby club and is about to make his second trip to Ireland this year to play the sport he loves, Squalicum alum Nick Wallace hasn't forgotten where he came from.
"I've been playing this sport for nearly 10 years now," Wallace said in a phone interview from Moraga, Calif. "I think I was about 12 years old when Paul Horne got me started in the sport. I remember all my old coaches out there with Chuckanut Bay and all the help they gave me. They helped me get to Saint Mary's and helped make me the player I am today."
Now Wallace is anxious for the opportunity to return home and show his former coaches and teammates, along with his friends and family, just how much he has progressed.
Wallace plans to return to Bellingham this weekend to play for the HUNA Hoggs, a team Wallace said was started 30 years ago by some Western Washington University alums, during the 34th Annual Can Am Summer 7s Tournament on Saturday, July 14, at the Bellingham Polo Fields just outside Ferndale.
"I always love coming back and playing close to home," Wallace said. "Bellingham is still home for me, and I still have all my coaches, family and friends there. I'm looking forward to coming home and playing in front of them all again. I'm out here trying to get in the best shape I can for the tournament."
Pool play is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. on Saturday. The Women's Division final is scheduled for 3:20 p.m., with the men's B Division final scheduled for 3:40 p.m. and the A Division final for 4 p.m.
The Hoggs have games scheduled for 10:20 a.m., noon and 1 p.m. The Chuckanut Bay men are scheduled to play at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and 11:20, with the women's team to play at 10:40 a.m., 12:20 p.m. and 1:20 p.m. Western Washington University has games scheduled for 10 a.m. and 11:20 a.m.
Wallace, who is about to enter his fifth year at Saint Mary's as a business administration major with a concentration in marketing and a minor in communications, said he's anxiously been awaiting his chance to return to Whatcom County.
"My parents only got to come watch me play rugby a few times this year," Wallace said. "I'm just excited to get back out to the polo fields. I'm looking forward to everything. This will be my first time home in seven months now."
Since then, Wallace has been quite busy playing for Saint Mary's as a prop and a lock -- positions in the middle of the first and second lines in a scrum and responsible for "being the engine of a scrum," Wallace said.
Though a club sport at Saint Mary's, Wallace said the rugby team is considered near varsity status and even gets to use the varsity training room and has its own trainer.
"We had a pretty good year," said Wallace, who also played football and basketball while at Squalicum. "It's basically a nine-month season. We started off by training in September and then started to play the 7s tournament in November. We went to the national tournament and placed fifth, and then we went right into 15s. ... We made it to the national tournament there, too, and we beat Utah in the first round, but we lost to Arkansas State in the semis for the second straight year. We had some high points and some low points, but I think we really accomplished a lot."
Included among those accomplishments was seeing Wallace selected to the USA Rugby Men's Collegiate All-American honorable mention team.
Because of that honor, Wallace was invited to a combine-style camp in Houston last month and was selected to a touring team that will travel to Ireland from Aug. 6-16.
"It's quite an honor," Wallace said. "I've put in a lot of work -- a lot of sweat in the bucket. I owe a lot of credit to the coaches who helped me get to this point."
While in Ireland, the all-star squad will play a pair of matches against Leinster Academy in Dublin and Munster Academy in Limerick. Both teams are feeder teams to pro-level clubs in those cities.
"It's going to be great going up against clubs of that caliber," Wallace said. "It's great playing teams from countries where rugby is so much bigger than it is here. That's how you get better, is facing competition like that. They learn to throw rugby balls over there about the same time we learn to throw footballs here."
It will be Wallace's second trip to Ireland this year, and he and Saint Mary's made a 10-day trip during spring break, and went 2-1 in matches.
"It's a lot of hard work getting ready for a trip like this, but it's worth every second," Wallace said.
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2271.
CAN AM SUMMER 7s
When: Saturday, July 14
Where: Bellingham Polo Fields, 7090 Dahlberg Road, Ferndale
Matches start: 9 a.m.
Women's final: 3:20 p.m.
Men's B final: 3:40 p.m.
Men's A final: 4 p.m.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.