After a four-year rugby career at Dartmouth, highlighted by two national championships and two All-American team selections, Nate Brakeley '12, was not quite ready to give up his beloved sport. So this year, the Massachusetts-born rugby player decided to continue his rugby career abroad. Brakeley who spent summers playing alongside the best players in California and Ireland now plays rugby for Cambridge University in Cambridge, England, while pursuing a master's degree in engineering.
"I was looking for a way to continue my education and keep playing rugby," Brakeley said. "The best of both worlds is where I ended up."
The 6'5", 240 lb. prop found himself choosing between Oxford University and Cambridge for graduate study, and said that his choice came down to which school had a better engineering program.
In choosing Cambridge, Brakeley joined a rugby team with undergraduate and graduate students from around the world. Since Cambridge is an international university, Brakeley said his teammates are very culturally diverse, with players from South Africa, Australia and the United Kingdom.
"Obviously everyone had a lot more rugby experience in their belt coming in, whereas most kids who join the rugby team at Dartmouth have never played before," Brakeley said. "People here have been exposed their whole life."
In the United Kingdom, rugby is the most watched and popular contact sport, Brakeley said.
"There is a lot more awareness of it the general public understands the rules, what's going on and they care," Brakeley said. "Rugby is always football's shadow in America because generally, your best athletes are going to go play football."
The Cambridge team has their own clubhouse and two practice fields, and holds six practices and one game per week. Brakeley has started in every game this year.
"It's really neat to be playing with a whole team of very capable rugby players, whereas at Dartmouth you have a handful of strong players who really carry the team," Brakeley said. "Everyone here is a phenomenal player."
Dartmouth rugby coach Gavin Hickie, who began coaching the team this year, said that playing at Cambridge is an "invaluable experience."
Cambridge is one of the most well-respected universities in the world and has a strong rugby program. Playing in England puts Brakeley "right under the nose of numerous professional scouts," he said.
"I think you're going to see a lot of professional teams looking for American players because American players are getting a lot better," Hickie said. "They certainly have the physicality it's just about getting their skill level up."
Hickie an Irish native who played rugby professionally for 10 years said representatives from Cambridge have recently expressed interest in strengthening ties between Dartmouth and Cambridge rugby, and requested that Dartmouth encourage more rugby players to consider playing at Cambridge.
"I think and hope that you will see more of our players taking up those kinds of opportunities," Hickie said. "I think Nate is a real trailblazer I believe he is the first player from Dartmouth to represent Cambridge."
Hickie said that many Dartmouth may follow Brakeley's path, especially because of Brakeley's legacy at Dartmouth.
"Nate is very highly thought of here at Dartmouth, for good reason," Hickie said.
However, the majority of this year's seniors plan to play rugby recreationally, rather than professionally, in the future, Shea Smith '13 said.
"I think our plans are to continue with rugby socially wherever we end up, second to jobs," Smith said. "It's a great way to meet a bunch of guys in a new location."
Brakeley said his ultimate goal is to play for the U.S. national team. Since his master's program at Cambridge only lasts one year, he said he plans to return to the U.S. and find a job close to a good rugby program. He hopes he will end up in Boston or San Francisco, Brakeley said.
"I really love the sport," Brakeley said. "It's a sense of camaraderie and sense of purpose that I haven't really found anywhere else."