As he was talking before Saturday’s game at South Park against Gillette, Wyoming, Rimrock Rattlesnakes player Wes Marsh said, “I can’t even put into words how much I love the game of rugby.”
Participating in three sports, there are things Marsh likes about each one. But lately he has really been enjoying rugby, which he first took up growing up in Frenchtown and watching older brother, Devon, play.
Marsh was an all-state center for the Billings Central Rams football team last fall. A senior who is listed at 6-foot, 250 pounds on the Rams’ football roster, Marsh also qualified for the State A wrestling tournament at heavyweight for Central.
Now, he can be found roaming the grass at South Park as a loose head prop for the Rattlers’ boys high school rugby team.
Marsh, who has signed a letter of intent to play football at Rocky Mountain College and is projected to be a defensive lineman for the Bears, said playing rugby has made him a better football player. One of the reasons: the sport requires sound, fundamental tackles, Marsh explained. He added that when players don’t have a helmet on when tackling they won’t “dive into a pile. You won’t see that in rugby. You’ll get a concussion or bust your face up.”
One particular thing that appeals to Marsh about rugby is “there are no all-stars. To be a team, everyone plays defense and everyone runs the ball.
“As a big guy, playing the offensive and defensive lines your whole life and blocking, it is fun to run the ball yourself.”
This year, Marsh is among the team leaders in tries and he said scoring his first try of the season against Missoula is one of his personal highlights.
“I ran through and broke a few tackles and dove in and lunged and scored,” said Marsh, who is a co-captain of the Rattlesnakes along with Abel Armitage. “It was sweet. There was a kid on my back. I was going down and lunged and scored.”
Armitage and Marsh have been teammates before. Marsh is in his third year playing rugby, but his first year with the Rattlesnakes. His first two years were with Frenchtown and he missed last year because of a foot injury. Marsh moved to Billings last winter from Frenchtown and finished his junior year at Central. Armitage, who is a sophomore at Roundup High School, also used to live in Frenchtown and they were teammates there.
“It’s great,” Marsh said of being teammates with Armitage, who plays lock. “I knew he would be good. He is athletic. Abel played for the high school team as an eighth grader and was good.”
The Rattlers are now 5-3-1 overall and 3-0-1 in their last four games.
Marsh said Hunter Saltzman of Roundup leads the team in tries, while Garret Schuk of Billings West, Cooper Vinton of Huntley Project, Zach Marty of Roundup and Jordan Webb of West are some of the top defenders. Vinton is also a kicker. Marsh said he is excited that fellow Central Ram Dayton Cogdill played in his first game Saturday and Morgan Knippel of Roundup is expected back next week from a foot injury.
Teams field 15 players and the Rattlers currently have 20 on the roster, including players from the four Billings high schools, Laurel, Huntley Project and Roundup, said Marsh.
“In rugby, everyone equally contributes. Your team is only as good as your weakest player,” Marsh said, adding if the team keeps progressing it has a strong shot to advance to the state tourney and play for the title on May 17 in Hamilton.
“We can take state if our guys play right,” said coach Greg Koszuta.
While the focus is on winning, the boys are having a fun time doing it.
“We are all really good friends and play well together,” Marsh said. “I don’t know how to explain it. We are all close and joking around with each other at practice.”