Granite Bay rugby continues to grow

Now in its fourth year, the program has six teams, more than 140 players
By: Robbie Enos/Roseville Press Tribune Correspondent
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Four years ago, John Kimble got the idea to start a rugby club in Granite Bay.
He and his son were avid fans, but there wasn’t a club to be found in the area. Kimble started putting up banners, making calls and recruiting players.

Two years later, he had a single junior varsity club team with 29 players competing in an eight-game schedule.

On Friday night, his varsity gold team defeated defending national-champion Jesuit High School 57-6.

Granite Bay Rugby now has six teams: two varsity, frosh-soph A and B, junior high and U-12. There are more than 140 kids playing for the Grizzlies.

“It’s been amazing. It’s really a contagious sport,” Kimble said. “We’ve really had a lot of excitement with it. The kids have just had a blast. The key thing is that we are player-focused coaches. It’s not about us, it’s about the players.”

Rugby is a club sport, and Granite Bay’s program isn’t associated with the CIF. The program receives no money from the school and relies on fundraisers. The Grizzlies play in the Sac Valley Rugby Conference. Other teams include Woodcreek, Sierra FH, Vacaville, Motherlode, Jesuit and more.

A full crowd packed the sidelines for the Granite Bay-Jesuit match at Ridgeview Elementary School, ranging from parents to a massive student section. The Grizzlies were considered big underdogs to a Jesuit squad known for its lack of mistakes and disciplined play.

But the military-style efficiency for which Jesuit is known didn’t show up, and Granite Bay’s superior athleticism took over. The Marauders made multiple mistakes, dropping punts and turning over the ball. The faster pace of the Grizzlies resulted in big hits and a greater possession of the ball.

“We played at a really fast pace,” Kimble said. “That was our game plan going in. We didn’t let them get their defense set up, and we were aggressive. Overall, that created missed gaps by them, because our offense ran so quickly.”

The club is a combination of multiple-sport athletes, but many are rugby fanatics. Senior captains John Kimble Jr. and Taylor Honnette play only rugby.

“I always watched my dad play, and it was really something that I just grew into,” Kimble Jr. said. “I stopped playing football for rugby. It’s really just where my heart is. I really love the game and the team.”

Honnette said he grew up watching his brother play.

“The team started my freshman year, and it’s always been my dream to play,” he said. “So I was so happy that a local team made it here.”

The team has attracted players from different schools, including Oakmont, Folsom and Del Campo.

“One of my coach’s sons, me and him became really good friends, and he brought me out here because I could hit and I could tackle and do everything out there,” said Patyn Countryman, a junior at Oakmont. “I love just the people on my team and being able to play for everybody.”

The multi-sport athletes express little doubt that rugby has turned them into better all-around competitors.

“Just knowing that you can hit people without pads. When you go out there with pads, you feel so much safer,” said Tyler Peters, a junior at Oakmont who plays football for the Vikings. “You can just really lay into somebody.”

The program isn’t done growing. The organization plans to build a field this spring off of Sierra College Boulevard. More players continue to come out, and Kimble has a bright vision for the future of his program.

“First and foremost, I want this to be a place that develops young men,” said Kimble, who played rugby globally, predominately in Germany. “Good young men. Good men in the community. Leaders. People that help each other. Rugby wise, we’re looking for a national championship. That’s our end goal.”