Matt Ortiz got a late start in rugby, but he compensates for a lack of experience with plenty of passion.
As just the second head coach in the 18-year history of the rugby program at Jesuit, Ortiz will bring that enthusiasm for a sport he picked up less than a decade ago.
The 2008 Jesuit graduate takes over for Anthony Mattacchione, the longtime architect of the program who left after last season to become the head coach at Regis Jesuit High School in Colorado.
Ortiz, 26, served as Mattacchione’s assistant coach for the previous three years, and said he plans to carry over much of what he learned during that time.
“He’s one of a kind. The most important thing to me to continue is the commitment to what the sport means to me, which is the community and the brotherhood,” Ortiz said. “He helped influence and set those traditions.”
The sense of camaraderie and culture is what drew Ortiz to rugby while he was a student at St. Edward’s University in Austin. During his sophomore year, he was working out near campus when he happened upon a practice for the recently revived club team at SEU. Some of the players called him over, and he was hooked. Ortiz was in uniform less than a week later.
“Rugby kind of took me by storm,” said Ortiz, who was a wrestler at Jesuit. “It was an amazing experience. These were people who really loved and cared about the sport. They had a lot invested in it.”
After playing in college for three years, Ortiz continues to compete for the Dallas Reds, a highly successful local club team.
At Jesuit, he inherits a program that has been one of the most decorated in Texas during the past two decades. The Rangers will start the 2017 season on Jan. 27 against rival Houston St. Thomas with about 65 players at the varsity and junior varsity levels combined.
Although taking a low-key approach compared to his fiery predecessor, Ortiz said he plans to stress hard work and fundamentals while trying to continue that success.
Off the field, Ortiz said he intends to carry on the program’s legacy of community service, while promoting a sport that has gained in popularity among teenagers in Texas in recent years — especially following the sport’s inclusion in the Olympics and increased exposure on television.
“It’s a tall order,” Ortiz said. “We’re in a really fortunate situation to have such a set program that has tradition and resources.”