By Jonathan So

Homecoming weekend means the return of USC Rugby for the annual Alumni Game. Trojan rugger grads put their boots on again to take on the Students. As the teams lined up for kick-off, both had something to prove: the Students wanted to show the Alumni firsthand how the program has progressed since 2014; the Alums wanted to continue their three year winning streak.

The match was fast-paced and high-energy, with the Students applying a more direct, physical brand of rugby. Despite a few handling errors, the Students dictated the pace of the match and put up 34 points in the first 60 minutes while holding the Alumni to 5. Credit goes to current Head Coach Loa Milford for not only drilling and preparing the current USC Team throughout this pre-season, but also putting up two tries as he suited-up for the Students. In the final 20 minutes of the game, the Alumni settled in, caught a second wind, and played positive rugby. After a great back-line play and try, the Alumni picked up momentum and put an additional 2 tries up on the board, ending the game with a final score of 41-20. The Students were pleased to finally end their 2-year losing-streak against the Alumni.

Many thanks to all players, families, and friends for coming out and participating. It is always a pleasure to host our former Trojan ruggers and we hope you enjoyed the Alumni Weekend as much as we did. Fight on!

A big thank you to our alumni for coming out and participating in our annual Alumni match this past Homecoming weekend! Always a pleasure to host our former Trojan ruggers!

A big thank you to our alumni for coming out and participating in our annual Alumni match this past Homecoming weekend! Always a pleasure to host our former Trojan ruggers!

Dave Lytle retires after 30-plus years playing for and coaching  USC rugby

by Randy Angel

USC Rugby Hall of Famer Dave Lytle with a team ball and the 2007 Rugby World Cup Championship Ball. His team went undefeated that year. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

USC Rugby Hall of Famer Dave Lytle with a team ball and the 2007 Rugby World Cup Championship Ball. His team went undefeated that year. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

In 1983, at the age of 44, Dave Lytle went out for the USC Rugby Club team and became, by far, the oldest member on the squad. It marked the beginning of a love story between Lytle, the sport of rugby and the Trojan family.

In May, the Rugby Club’s Hall of Famer retired after 28-years as the head coach of USC’s rugby team.

Lytle grew up in West Los Angeles and attended Santa Monica College before graduating from the University of Utah in 1962. He had a strong background in football and athletics and moved back to Southern California to pursue what became a 30-year career in law enforcement.

Now residing in Rolling Hills Estates (he has lived on the Peninsula since 1975) Lytle served mostly as a State Parole Agent with a two-year stint at the California Institution for Men in Chino.

“When I was playing football at Santa Monica, we would go out to Chino and play the inmates in a game,” Lytle recalled. “I felt things had come full circle.”

Working for the state, Lytle was offered free tuition to further his education.

“I applied to the two most expensive schools in the state, USC and Stanford, and was accepted at both,” Lytle said. “I decided on USC because I didn’t want to make the commute to Stanford for night classes.”

The 2007 University Rugby World Cup Championship Game Ball. USC went undefeated that year. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

The 2007 University Rugby World Cup Championship Game Ball. USC went undefeated that year. Photo by Brad Jacobson (CivicCouch.com)

Although in his mid-40s, Lytle wanted to play lacrosse at USC because he was adept at stick handling. The coach told him he was too old and not tough enough. An argument ensued and campus police were called.

“I knew most of them from my job in law enforcement so the confrontation ended quickly,” Lytle said.

“I went across the street to a pub and saw some guys drinking together and singing some pretty spicy songs. I asked who they were and they told me they were the USC Rugby Club. I asked if I could play and one guy said ‘Hey guys, this is Dave and he’s going to play rugby with us.’”

It was the beginning of what Lytle calls “a great ride.”

“The thing about rugby is that if you can do it, the players don’t care what you look like, how old you are or your ethnicity,” Lytle said. “If you do the job, you’re accepted. I was 47 years old the last year I played.”

Lytle quickly found that the brotherhood between rugby players is like no other. With little to no protection, opposing players compete in an extremely physical, constantly moving game that is not for the squeamish. Yet sportsmanship is of the utmost importance and it is a common occurrence for opposing players to drink a few beers together after a contest.

“The amazing thing about rugby is the lifelong friendships you make,” Lytle said. “There is a bond in football, but it’s nothing like the bond in rugby.”

Lytle continues to play in USC Rugby Alumni games and holds the team record for the longest keg stand of 2 minutes, 23 seconds. A keg stand is a drinking game where the participant does a handstand on a keg of beer and attempts to drink as much as possible at once or to drink for as long as possible.

“The highlight of my playing career was just putting on the cardinal and gold jersey and representing USC,” Lytle said. “The first time out was amazing. One of my best friends, George Contreras made a Trojan out of me and I’m a lifetime member of the Cardinal and Gold club founded by Nick Pappas.”

Rugby also provided Lytle the opportunity to see other parts of the world. Selected to a travel team, he played in Singapore, Taipei, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong.

Known for his storytelling and sense of humor, Lytle recalls an incident with his travel team.

“On the plane, I told players I could run a 10 flat,” Lytle said. “We got there and began to practice. At the end, players were asking where the 10-flat speed was. I told them, ‘Look at how fast I covered those 40 yards. It was under 10 seconds.’ Everyone laughed.”

Founded in 1910, the USC Trojans Rugby Football Club is the school’s oldest and most prestigious club sport. It competes in the Southern California Rugby Football Union and in the Gold Coast Conference of Intercollegiate Rugby

In 1986, Lytle became the only USC club sport athlete to receive a Varsity Ring which was presented by Athletic Director Mike McGee.

After playing for the Trojans, Lytle served two years on the USC Rugby Advisory Committee then became head coach in 1988.

He led the Trojans to a Division Championship in 2005 and Division and Regional titles while going undefeated in 2009 which he considers the highlight of his coaching career.

“We routed CSU Fullerton for the 2007 title,” Lytle said. “The closest game was a 17-14 win over UCLA, which was the most points scored on us all season. Going undefeated in a season is a rarity.”

Lytle and the rugby club enjoyed great support during the McGee-Pappas era, but he admits that it was tough to keep the program alive for awhile.

“I wish university would help out more,” Lytle said. “The Intramural and Recreational Sports Departments helped us out but field space was always a problem. USC’s home is at the McAlister Field, located near the Los Angeles Coliseum.

“(Former head football coach) Pete Carroll was a big supporter of the Rugby Club,” Lytle said. “Pete was amazing, letting us use Howard Jones Field to practice on since it was the only field on campus with goal posts which is a huge part of the game of rugby.”

Carroll is known for teaching rugby-style tackling techniques with the Seattle Seahawks.

“It’s safer and better to wrap up the ball carrier than to bounce off of him,” Lytle explained. “If I were a football coach and had a marginal player that maybe was out of shape, I’d have him play rugby. It is a great sport for conditioning and improving coordination skills.

“There’s always a player that comes along that is not a gifted athlete and maybe not in the best of shape but has a big heart. After he begins to play and works out, he develops to become an effective rugby player who contributes to the team.”

Lytle said he felt it was time for him to step down as coach and bring in some new blood, including former players Bryan Randles, who played in the 1990s, and Austin Reed, a member of the 2009 undefeated team.

“It’s been a lot of fun and I owe a lot to rugby,” Lytle said. “I’ve had some great guys help me over the years and I know the program is in good hands. It went down a little after my playing days but now there are 60 players on the club.”

“Dave Lytle is like a father to us at USC Rugby,” said USC team captain Joey Krassenstein. “The man dedicated his life to our country and to our rugby program. In the four years that I played for Coach Dave he was at every practice, every rugby game, and at every football tailgate. He motivated us when we were down, cheered us on when we excelled, and congratulated us whether we lost or won. I’ve never met anyone else who can tell a better story about rugby, celebrating, and life in general. The man can always put a smile on my face. I hope he enjoys his retirement and knows that USC rugby is in good hands for the future.”

Lytle said he will continue to be involved with rugby, serving on the USC Rugby Advisory Committee and attending numerous sporting events. His Trojan heritage runs deep.

His driveway bears the USC logo and he has what he calls his “Trojan Room” where he displays years of memorabilia.

“There are a lot of memories in the room,” Lytle said. “I’ll slowly turn the memorabilia over to the Rugby Club as I get older.”

Lytle used to have a Datsun 240 Z that he would drive to the USC campus. It was painted cardinal and gold and the horn played the USC Fight Song.

“One day a man came up to me and said ‘Nice car.’ I said the colors were right and he agreed,” Lytle recalled. “Occasionally, I would meet him on campus and one day we had coffee together. I asked him if he worked at the school. He said he did and I asked what he did. He told me he was the President of the university. I said, ‘No really, what do you do?’ He proved to me that he was indeed the President. That’s how I met John Hubbard.”

As a parole agent, Lytle had the opportunity to impact many lives and he acquired jobs at USC for many people.

“One man became Employee of the Year,” Lytle said proudly. “He took advantage of the free six credits offered him and eventually earned a degree. It was a great success story.”

Lytle’s influence carries beyond USC and into the community.

Duke Dulgarian, a former UCLA player who has built a championship rugby program at Mira Costa High School, acknowledges Lytle’s contributions to the sport.

“Dave Lytle is the epitome of the rugby culture,” Dulgarian said. “By that, I mean that when he coached he taught the game the way it should be taught with great fundamentals, passion and most of all sportsmanship. He understood that the rugby culture transcends the game itself.

“A true Rugger is one that plays the game to the best of his/her physical ability and completely within the laws of the game. The Rugger appreciates excellent rugby play, even if that play is coming from the other side of the pitch. That is Dave Lytle. He brought that sense of sportsmanship and love of the game to our sport. He did his best to foster the rugby culture and we are all disciples of his — despite the fact that he coached at USC.”

Lytle sees the growth of rugby in the South Bay and feels the return of the sport to the Olympics will help boost its popularity throughout the United States.

“Youth rugby just started when I played,” Lytle said. “Now there are 10U and 12U teams, which is what the sport needs. The television coverage from the Rio de Janeiro Games will only help introduce kids to rugby.”

Rugby has not been an Olympic sport since 1924 and USA is the defending gold medal champions. The U.S. men’s and women’s rugby sevens teams have already qualified for the 2016 Olympics by winning continental championships.

Lytle will spend part of his retirement helping to build youth rugby by serving on an advisory board for the Palos Verdes Rugby Club. It is run by one of his former coaches at USC, Jeremy Wilkinson.

“Talk about somebody bringing unity on the hill, Wilkinson did something special, bringing athletes from rival schools (Palos Verdes and Peninsula) together to play rugby,” Lytle said. “He has a great passion for the sport.”

Growing up in South Africa, Wilkinson began playing rugby when he was six year old. He played college rugby in London.

“Dave Lytle is one of the most reliable people you will ever meet,” Wilkinson said. “He spent many late nights at USC and single-handedly held the rugby program together at a school where football is No. 1. Coaching for nearly 30 years at the same school, in any sport, is incredible.”

Like Lytle, Wilkinson feels once an athlete tries rugby, he or she will enjoy the game. He also believes cross training is important for athletes in any sport.

“There is a huge ground swell of enthusiasm for rugby,” Wilkinson said “It’s a safe sport with few major injuries and a person can play well into their 30s, 40s and beyond.”

Athletes whose high schools do not have rugby programs are allowed to play for another school, which can have up to 30 percent of its roster with players from another high school who live within 10 miles.

For more information on youth rugby, visit pvrugby.com.

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Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 4.11.59 PMWritten by Stephen Alexander

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - John Martinez, a former USC Trojan offensive lineman, is making his mark as a fullback for the Portland Thunder in his second Arena Football League season.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE – John Martinez, a former USC Trojan offensive lineman, is making his mark as a fullback for the Portland Thunder in his second Arena Football League season.

Growing up as one of the big boys, always playing on the offensive and defensive line, John Martinez is now living “a lineman’s dream” playing fullback and scoring touchdowns for the Portland Thunder.

“The kid is a professional,” Thunder coach Mike Hohensee says. “If we put him on defense, he’d play there. It doesn’t matter where we put him. The kid would do the best job he can. I wish we had more kids like that.”

Martinez, who will turn 24 on July 23, grew up in Salt Lake City. He was born to Tongan parents, then adopted at birth. He has a relationship with both his adopted parents and his birth parents.

“I feel blessed,” Martinez says. “I feel honored and excited at the same time that I’m fortunate enough to have two sets of parents that are very loving and supporting.”

Martinez was not raised Mormon, but Salt Lake City had a large Polynesian community that helped get him into rugby and football. After his high school career, he decided to leave Utah because of then-USC coach Pete Carroll.

“Pete Carroll came to my living room and told me he was going to take care of me,” Martinez says. “So he got me there, but then he bounced to the Seahawks.”

Martinez played under USC coach Carroll in 2009, then was coached by Lane Kiffin from 2010-13. Martinez started 30 games at right or left offensive guard and was honorable mention all Pac-12 in 2012. He was part of the bowl-ineligible USC teams, which still does not sit well with him.

“It was one of the darker ages of USC, not being able to go to bowls, not being able to have that publicity for your school,” Martinez says. “The only upside was that you had a longer Christmas break. But you still had that bitterness of wanting to play in a bowl.”

One of Martinez’s best memories playing college football was when the Trojans came to Autzen Stadium in 2011 and beat Oregon in overtime, ending any hope the Ducks might have had of playing for a national championship.

“It was one of the louder stadiums I’ve played in,” Martinez says. “That place gets rocking. It felt great to ruin someone else’s season.”

When he was finished with college, Martinez signed with the Seahawks, but was not able to make the team in Seattle.

Martinez briefly considered giving up football, but that was short-lived.

“There was a time when I thought about (not playing football), because the more time I spend in football the fewer opportunities I have getting a job or career somewhere else,” he says. “But right now, I feel like I’m at the age where I can go have some fun and do what I can do as long as my body holds up.

“I’m living the dream of playing football.”

Martinez came on with the Portland Thunder late last season. Hohensee was not the coach at that time, but he was unimpressed with what he saw of Martinez on film from the 2014 Arena Football League season. After an offseason of playing rugby, though, Hohensee says Martinez did a 180.

“Last year, he came in late in the season, he was out of shape, and he really didn’t look that good on film,” Hohensee says. “But he went out in the offseason, played some rugby, got himself into unbelievable shape, and it paid off for him.

“He’s a tremendous fullback. He’s done a great job for us in protection, and he’s done way better carrying the football than we ever thought he would. And that’s because he’s worked at it. It’s nothing we’ve developed. I don’t think we’ve blocked particularly well for him. But he’s his own blocker with the ball in his hands.”

This season, Martinez, 6-2 and 325 pounds, has carried the ball 37 times for 58 yards (1.6 per carry) and 12 touchdowns. He also has caught six passes for 54 yards (9.0 average) and one touchdown. Those are good numbers for arena football.

Martinez, who has played rugby off and on most of his life, agrees with Hohensee that the cross-training was a catalyst for his success at fullback.

“I felt comfortable at rugby, so I was comfortable running the ball, without pitching the ball backward,” he says.

Having played on the offensive line also helps Martinez have a better grasp of running the ball.

“Having an offensive line mind-set helps you to know how things are going to develop,” he says. “You have to be more patient as a fullback in this league because the big boys have to move the guys out of the lanes before you can start running.”

Martinez is usually called upon to plow through the line, but at times he has shown an ability to make tacklers miss.

“He’s agile enough for what we do here,” Hohensee says. “We want him to punish people with the football. We want him to get one yard when we need one yard. Anytime he can catch the ball in the open field and make somebody pay for it, that works for us, too.”

Things are not all glamorous for a fullback in the Arena Football League, though. While he does get to carry the ball occasionally and get into the end zone, Martinez’s main duty is to step up as a blocker and take a ton of punishment to keep the quarterback safe.

“As a fullback in this league, you’re head-banging every play,” Martinez says. “Whether it’s stepping up into the ‘A’ gaps or coming onto the outside with the D-ends, guys are flying. You’ve got to be able to stop that momentum of that huge 300-pound nose guard coming at you.

“Fullback in this league wears and tears on your neck, on your shoulders and all that kind of stuff.”

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Portland Thunder fullback John Martinez has scored 12 rushing touchdowns in the 2015 Arena Football League season, but pass blocking is his major duty.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE – Portland Thunder fullback John Martinez has scored 12 rushing touchdowns in the 2015 Arena Football League season, but pass blocking is his major duty.

On June 28, in a road game against the Las Vegas Outlaws, Martinez had his best game as a fullback, only to see it end with his worst play. Martinez was a lightning rod for the Thunder, scoring four touchdowns. On Portland’s final series of the game, though, the Thunder gave the ball to Martinez to try to run out the clock. Martinez fumbled, and the Outlaws were able to capitalize on the turnover with a touchdown on the final snap and steal a 48-46 victory.

“I felt like my back was on the ground,” Martinez says of the play, which originally was not ruled a fumble but was overturned after an official’s review that lasted about five minutes. “At the end of the day, though, they called it a fumble. That sucks.”

Hohensee’s reaction to the play was to make sure Martinez knew the Thunder would not have been that close to winning without him.

“I said, ‘I understand how devastating that was for you,’” Hohensee says. “’It was devastating for all of us. But understand we wouldn’t have even been in that position to be killing the clock if it wasn’t for your efforts earlier. His effort kept it close for us and, unfortunately, the ball came out.”

While the play may always bother him, Martinez says he has been able to move on by having a short memory.

“I believe in having a short memory, and then it’s on to the next (play),” he says. “There’s nothing I can do about that fumble.”

Martinez bounced back nicely on Saturday. He ran eight times and gained 15 yards, scoring the Thunder’s first and last touchdowns on runs of 4 and 5 yards in a 72-48 victory at Moda Center against the Jacksonville Sharks.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 4.11.59 PM

usc-v-usc-alumni-2015-trimmed

Another perfect Southern California rugby day for the USC Rugby Alumni match held on the USC campus. With Coach Dave Lytle’s retirement banquet that evening, the Alumni team had extra players ready for subbing. This was going to be a long match for the USC Rugby team.

From the opening kick-off, both teams were eager to move the ball and push through the defensive line. The opening score was Joey Krassenstein picking off an Alumni backline pass to zip away for the try. This woke up the Alumni, and didn’t take long for the Alumni to find a gap and push through – and not surprisingly current Forwards Coach Austin Reed did the most damage – with his knowledge of the current team, he picked his targets wisely.

The tries kept coming for the Alumni who seemed to find more energy as the game progressed. Even with USA Eagle Adam Siddall playing fly-half for the students, couldn’t find a way through the stingy Alumni defense. It wasn’t long until Adam, also a USC Law graduate student, switched jerseys and messed up the Alumni attack.

Super speedster winger, Dave Lytle, finally got his hands on the ball and dodged a tackle and carried another tackler with him over the try line to score.

The final score was USC Alumni 60 – USC Rugby 21.

Man of the Match was Dave Lytle. Scoring a try at age 78 is pretty awesome. Thanks to everyone for coming out and making the game a huge success. Fight on!

Photos from the match:

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Dear USC Trojan Rugby Family,

USC v UCLA

USC v UCLA

With your help, USC Rugby reached numerous milestones in Fall 2014. In Pac-12 Sevens Rugby Championship, USC collected a huge victory against Stanford, breaking the team’s win-less spell in the conference tournament. USC also finished 4-2 in its 15’s pre-season friendlies with wins over Pepperdine, UC Santa Barbara, UC Riverside, and Claremont Mckenna.

On the team’s management side, USC Rugby has over 50 active players with many freshman and transfer students filling up spots from last year’s large graduating class. The team was able to field both an A-side and B-side teams for every match and hopes to continue this into the spring season.

In the fall semester, USC Rugby also sealed sponsorship deals with Sports Chalet, Core Power and Adverts4Autos, which will help the team’s growth in terms of supplement and funding.

Coach Anthony Yeo

Coach Anthony Yeo

With the addition of our new backs coach, Anthony Yeo and continued leadership from head coach Dave Lytle, forwards coach Austin Reed, and the Team eBoard, this past season proved successful as the team showed huge potential to become one of the most competitive in the Gold Coast Intercollegiate Rugby Conference and the Pac-12. A team goal this year is to better unite with our large alumni network and get more alumni involvement in growing the program. Your Trojans look to keep up the hard work and deliver their best attacking rugby on the pitch in the upcoming 2015 season.

USC Rugby would like to thank you for your generous support this year and hopes that you will continue this as we together make the program better and stronger.

Happy Holidays,

USC Rugby