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Alumni Spotlight: Jack Paloucek

When did you first start playing rugby and why?

I started playing freshman year in 2015 when my buddy asked me to come out to a training session. I had no idea what

rugby was before I came to college and I knew I had to be a part of some sort of team or I would have become stagnant as a student and an athlete. Our first game was against Billings men's team where Coach Joe and Nate handed me a jersey and said “you earned it, just run the ball” and that was what I did until I separated my A/C joint. Despite many other

injuries along the way, I fell in love with the culture and camaraderie that was unlike any other sport I have ever played.

What are all the teams and clubs you have played for and where?

Montana State Men's Rugby Club 2015-2019

Vail Rugby Club- Summer 2018

Matakanui Combined RFC- Omakau New Zealand, Jan-Jun 2020

Mystic River Rugby Club-Malden- 2020-2022

Northeast Academy- Boston- Invitational New England Academy team 2021

New England Independents- Boston- Free Jacks Academy 2021-2022

Dallas Jackals MLR- Spring 2022

In what ways did rugby impact you during your time at Montana state?

Rugby changed my life, our core group of players ended up becoming my second family, especially while being so far away from my family in Chicago, it was an easy transition as we all needed to fill that space in each other's lives. We spent everyday together, lifting, studying, and nonstop road trips across the country really brought everyone closer together. With Coach Joe and Nate traveling with us every weekend and Malcolm screaming “integrity” as he ran us into oblivion, we all grew very close. I soon realized that rugby could take you anywhere in the world and provide opportunities that no other sports could, when Coach Joe said he had connections with a team in New Zealand I jumped right on it.

When did you graduate (and with what degree) and what do you do now?

I graduated December 2019 with a degree in Environmental Science-Land Rehabilitation. Now I am an energy efficiency consultant in Boston, but still trying to make professional rugby happen until my body won’t let me anymore.

How has balancing a career and playing high level rugby worked out for you?

Balancing a career and playing high level rugby is tough. There is a huge time commitment when you are jumping from club rugby, skills sessions, and MLR training. If you aren’t a fully contracted player and just on the practice squad, like I was with the Free Jacks, you still have to work a job and make an income in addition to all the work you put in on and off the field. It really is for the love of the game at this point, I am just trying to develop as fast as I can while I still have age on my side, and hopefully the opportunities will come. I’m constantly telling myself that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I don’t want to regret any decisions that I choose not to make.

In the MLR, what is play like and how does it differ from your premiership and college play?

I knew MLR was going to be the biggest transition in play I had experienced yet as a player, even knowing and preparing for that, it was exhausting. The pace, physicality, and skills really showed that this is world class competition against world

class players. But a lot of it is mental and anyone can succeed at that level if you commit 100% regardless of your size. The MLR was more similar to rugby in the American Rugby Premiership with Mystic River where all the little jobs had to be done right to come away with a win. Unlike college rugby, little mistakes can happen and you can still come away with the win. But without Montana State and the mentality that was engraved in me, I wouldn’t have made it anywhere, and I am truly thankful for that.

What opportunities have you had that you didn’t capitalize on and in hindsight wish you had?

When Joe Williams set me up with Matakanui Combined RFC in New Zealand, it was right at the beginning of Covid. Needless to say, we had one preseason game and they shut the whole country down to prevent Covid from spreading. After months of quarantine, the government officially allowed club rugby training and seasons to resume. I was having trouble nailing down the plans I had for when I returned, and I chose to return home. I have been surrounded by some amazing NZ coaches and players through my time at Mystic and being involved in MLR. Looking back on it now, I wish I had stayed to finish the season to develop some skills and experience the culture a bit more around some really knowledgeable rugby players.

What advice would you give to a younger player starting out their rugby career in the US?

My advice would be to take every opportunity that is presented to you, because life only happens once and you are only young once. Especially with MLR having a presence with many local clubs and with other high performance pathways, there is always a chance to develop your skills and get noticed through skills camps, or local tournaments. What worked really well for me in terms of standing out was just playing the rugby I had learned up until that point, being fearless with the ball on offense and dominant on defense is a lot of what we did well at Montana State, so I should be able to do it at any other club, and it worked. I am beyond thankful for the Coaches and players at MSU that are putting in the time to

such a great program, because it was monumental for me as a person and a player.

Best Memory?

My best memory to date is my MLR debut in Toronto. My parents drove 8 hours to watch me play in person and I had friends and family across the country supporting me on TV. It was a crazy experience to feel what it is like to be a professional athlete, travel accommodations, nice hotel, big meals, personal trainers, coach bus, the whole nine yards, and all while being paid. Getting to watch the replay of the game on TV and talk to family and friends who had tuned in was also a blast, especially watching me get absolutely folded in slow motion by a very large man. Can’t win ‘em all!


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