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May 7, 2021

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Two former NFL players fill USA rugby team’s roster

Bennie Brazell and Leonard Peters make the transition from football to rugby



Bennie Brazell fights through a tackle in a practice session earlier this week in preparation for the USA Sevens Rugby Tournament this weekend at Sam Boyd Stadium.

The USA Sevens Rugby Team

USA Sevens Rugby team vice-captain Matt Hawkins. Launch slideshow »

If You Go

  • What: USA Sevens Rugby Tournament
  • When: Saturday, February 13, all day; Sunday, February 14, all day
  • Where: Sam Boyd Stadium.
  • Tickets: $35 to $250 for one day, $70 to $500 for both days Purchase Tickets

Rugby terms to know

Stoppages: Play is stopped only when there is a rule violation, when the ball goes out of bounds or when there is a score.

Handling the ball: The ball can be passed laterally or backward, or kicked in any direction at any time during play. Throwing or dropping the ball in a forward direction is illegal.

Rucks: A ruck occurs after a tackle is made. Both teams converge over the ball and attempt to push the opposition off it.

Scrums: A scrum is a method of restarting play following a minor rule violation (such as a forward pass). Three players from both teams bind together and line up in front of the opposition. A member of the non-offending team places the ball in between the players and each team pushes against each other until possession is established.

Tries: A try is achieved by touching the ball down in the opposition's in-goal area (similar to a touchdown) and is worth 5 points. A try is then followed by a conversion, which is a drop-kick at goal worth 2 points.

Bennie Brazell has an athletic résumé that few can match.

While at Louisiana State University, Brazell won a national championship on the Tigers football team as a wide receiver in 2003 and took home five national championships in track and field. He also competed in the 2004 Olympics in the 400-meter hurdles.

Come this weekend at Sam Boyd Stadium, Brazell will be trying to win another championship as a member of the American team at the USA Sevens International Rugby Tournament. But how exactly did a football player/Olympian start playing rugby?

"I had an opportunity and I wanted to do something physical, so it was this or boxing," Brazell said. "This is what I chose to do."

The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Brazell in the seventh round of the 2007 NFL Draft, but he never stuck with an NFL squad. At the end of this season, it became clear to Brazell that his football career was finished.

He wanted to get involved with another sport and when the USA rugby team heard about him, they jumped at the opportunity. Although Brazell had no background in rugby and just started playing three weeks ago, his combination of speed and strength make him the perfect prototype for a rugby player.

"I don't think it's really a transition," Brazell said. "It's just basically competing. Both sports are physical."

Brazell is one of two former NFL players on the USA squad for the sevens tournament. The other, Leonard Peters, played safety for the New York Jets and Chicago Bears before turning to rugby.

Peters, who played college football at Hawaii, joined the team last year after the Bears cut him from their practice squad. When the coaches explained to him that the sevens version of rugby was all about quick games, Peters thought the sport would be easy to adjust to.

He was in for a rude awakening.

"When I heard it was only 20-minute games, I was like, 'Man, I would kill that. I've played two-hour games in college and the NFL,'" Peters said. "The first game I ever played in rugby, after two minutes, I was begging the coach to take me out."

While Peters said the physicality of football definitely helped with the transition to rugby, the agility was a different story.

"The running in rugby is unbelievable," Peters said. "In football, you run for nine seconds and rest for 30 seconds. In rugby, you run for seven minutes straight."

Some adjustments are needed, but Brazell and Peters prove that the NFL can be a fertile breeding ground for rugby players. They will both play big roles in determining if the USA squad can have a successful weekend in Las Vegas.

Brazell, however, came up with a different key for his team.

"Leave me out," Brazell said jokingly, "because I'm the weak link."

Although Brazell has played rugby for less than a month, that's clearly not the case. The American team only had 15 roster spots and Brazell earned one of them.

His football background certainly had something to do with it.

"Competing is what it's all about," Brazell said. "That's all I can tell you."

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