Ben Marshall thought rugby was a game for roughnecks, guys who liked the real physical side of football, and the notion of combat in motion without much protective equipment.
That approach worked well for Marshall while helping his Perrysburg club team win a rugby state championship, and while playing a key role in the Yellow Jackets' winning the Northern Lakes League football title in the 2006 season.
Then Marshall moved on to college and joined the rugby club at Bowling Green State University, where the program has been a national power more often than not for more than 30 years.
"I wasn't a finesse guy -- I just liked hitting people," Marshall said, "but I quickly found out that there's a lot of finesse involved when you play this game right and you play it at a high level. I had the hitting part down, and I eventually learned the finesse part, too."
Marshall's dad had played for the Toledo Celtics, so he had heard the stories about rugby's unique blend of rugged competition and unique social structure. Adversaries would slug it out on the field of play all afternoon, and then toast each other at the local pub.
"I found it to be the ultimate sport, where a combination of toughness and finesse was the best approach, but everybody had a real genuine respect for the game, and for each other as competitors," Marshall said.
As a top high school club player, Marshall was recruited to come to BGSU by Roger Mazzarella, the long-time director of the Bowling Green rugby club, and Mazzarella's son Tony, the current coach of the team. Since Marshall planned to major in education, the school choice fit his needs.
"I came in thinking I'd be playing on the club's top team, but it didn't work out that way," Marshall said. "The competition level involves a very big jump. We have A, B, and C teams and I started out with the C group. You see right away that the players are all better than you, and you have to work a lot harder at it."
Marshall said he put in a significant amount of extra practice time to learn the nuances of passing and kicking. "Rugby is a game you really have to learn before you can play it very well," he said.
Marshall, who played fullback and linebacker on the football field for Perrysburg, plays the scrum half position in rugby, serving as the primary link between the forwards and the backs, setting other people up to score.
"Ben is perfectly suited for the job," said the elder Mazzarella, whose BG rugby teams have won every Mid-American Conference championship since 1982. "He is excellent at 'directing traffic' around breakdowns. A fearless tackler, he is also a very dangerous runner in the open field. I love the kid."
Bowling Green's rugby club, currently ranked No. 1 in the country, will host the National Collegiate Championships at the end of the month. The competition in the men's and women's divisions will take place at Mickey Cochrane Stadium on campus, the home of the BGSU soccer teams.
"It's awesome having the national tournament here," Marshall said. "The fact we're ranked as high as we are gives us a great opportunity to bring all the best teams here, and it's great for the national rugby scene to recognize us."
Marshall, who hopes to be a junior high science teacher after graduation, said he encourages his former football and rugby teammates to become part of the Bowling Green program. Three other Perrysburg graduates - Ethan Heckman, John Wesley, and Matt Marquette - are members of the BG club.
"It's almost like a given that you want to get all the guys from your home club to come to BG," Marshall said. "When you pick up rugby, it's addictive, so you want to share that with your friends."
Contact Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.