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Arizona State Rugby: A diamond in the sand

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Jahii Carson, Marion Grice and Adam Sandstrom. Only one of these men is a premier international athlete. If you don't know, it's time to meet Arizona State rugby's diamond in the rough.

Adam Sandstrom

He said he trusted him. Finishing in the back of the pack of rugby players sprinting sideline to sideline, he needed a pick-me-up.

Come on, one more. You got this...

Adam Sandstrom answered Sebastian Sica's call. Sica, who is 6-foot, 1-inch and 275 pounds, grinned. He said Sandstrom could run just as fast as the rest of the Arizona State University men's rugby club, but he would hang-back to motivate him.

"Obviously, I'm not the most in-shape guy out there," said Sica, who has played the game for three years. "But he runs with me. He doesn't have to. Yeah, he's a good guy to talk to. He's an encouraging guy."

Sandstrom, a senior member in the club, has risen the ranks in rugby - even on a national stage. With this being his final year with the collegiate club, the 2011 Men's Junior All-American said becoming an Olympian in 2016 is his next goal.

"I'm just trying to move forward," Sandstrom said. "My final goal is to make that Olympic squad."

Who would have thought this aspiration would come from a knee injury?

Todd Sandstrom, Adam's father, was a Division III football player who injured his knee in 1985. When his knee healed, he became interested in the sport of rugby.

"It was just D-III football. It was no big thing..." Todd said.

He reminisced, then quickly shifted gears. He glanced over to the right, where Adam stood in an ASU rugby uniform.

The memory is vivid. He was driving with Adam, a preteen at the time.

"We saw a rugby match, pulled-over to watch it," Todd said. "He was just a little guy, and he said ‘I want to play this game.'"

The Wisconsin native joined a high school rugby club the following year; it was not the high school he would be going to. When Adam became a freshman, Todd started a club at Oconomowoc High School. This was where he became an all-state player, and ASU coach Gary Lane took interest.

"He had a lot of speed, a lot of enthusiasm for the game," said Lane, who was a player at the international and national levels for 28 years. "He was very impressive his first year."

Lane joined the ASU rugby club after playing in the United Kingdom; he was captain of the club his final year. Sandstrom was a captain last year; the club has not elected the captains for this season but Lane said he has natural leadership ability.

"He leads from the front and sets a good example," Lane said. "Like any player he has good practices and bad practices, but he works hard."

The lights flicker on, illuminating the field. Midway through practice after drills, the team runs basic routines and plays. Adam uses his speed to snatch the laterals thrown to him by his teammates; his swiftness defines his athletic ability. What is as quick as his feet is a smile to his face.

Sandstrom is enjoying himself. He said he is even laughing more now that his brother, Alexander Sandstrom, is on the team. Alexander started playing his senior year of high school, but did not play with his brother; he is a freshman on the ASU club. He said he was always into baseball, but something clicked.

"It's really nice having an older brother coming into this," Alexander said.

Their brotherhood became stronger.

"To tell you the truth in high school, we weren't that good of friends growing up," Adam said. "He started playing rugby and it became the ultimate connector for us. We really just got to like each other more."

Adam and Alexander, both on each side of their father, look in his direction. They both agreed their father gets excited and emotional now that they are playing the sport together.

"Yeah, he gets really emotional. Especially when we are playing at the same time," Adam said. "He just likes to see us do well and succeed."

Todd said he is incredibly lucky to coach his sons, who are "pretty damn good" at what they do.

It is a family affair. Adam and Alexander play and Todd is an assistant coach for ASU's club. The brothers play 7's with each other in the fall, which is a 7-on-7 match (there is also 15's played in the spring). Todd said when they first started playing together, they were scoring. He said he got a little "cooky and weird" because he was so excited to see his sons working together.

Adam will see 7's at the Olympic level. He said this style of play is his focus.

"On the college level there is competition, but the level of athlete isn't as high," said Lane, comparing national to international play. "When you're dealing with international level, the question is: ‘Is your game just as good?'"

Adam said speed is the biggest thing with international play; his teammates say he has the speed. Adam said no matter what, his mind is fixed - ever since seeing that game on the side of the road as a middle-school kid.

"I get overly worked up so I need to reign myself in," Todd said. "(Adam's) shot passed me. We will see."