Skip to content
Athletics Campus & Community Student Features

SJU rugby standout is among best in nation

A Saint John’s University rugby player has once again demonstrated he belongs among the nation’s elite.

Senior Joey O’Brien, an exercise and health science major, was part of the Midwest team in the National Collegiate All-Star Tournament held in January in Austin, Texas. It marked the second year in a row O’Brien has been selected to take part in the competition, which features top players from all divisions of the college ranks.

This year, O’Brien was named a team captain for his squad, which went 3-2 in the competition and finished second overall – falling to Great Lakes in the championship match.

He was one of only two players from Minnesota colleges chosen for the event, joining Midwest teammate Matthew Carda of Minnesota-Duluth.

“It was a really gratifying experience,” O’Brien said. “It felt good to be able to play with and against that kind of competition and hold my own. It shows all the hard work I’ve put in the past few years has really paid off.”

The all-star tournament came on the heels of another successful season for O’Brien and the SJU club team, which advanced to the round of eight in the small college division of the National Collegiate Rugby tournament last fall. SJU beat Slippery Rock 20-19 in the round of 16 on Nov. 18 in St. Louis before falling to Wayne State in the national quarterfinals the following day.

“Our guys showed a lot of perseverance,” SJU co-coach Garrett Larson said. “We struggled with injuries early on, but we hung in there Joey was a big part of that. The other guys rallied around he and (fellow captain) Jamie Ozuna.”

Larson said O’Brien left his mark on the program at SJU and will be hard to replace.

“Joey really did everything for us,” Larson said. “If I was going to relate it to football, I’d say he played a position that ranged from linebacker to quarterback to running back to kicker. He was an offensive and defensive powerhouse.

“But his real legacy will be his work ethic and what he brought to our program in terms of leadership. He elevated the other people around him and made them want to be better.”

O’Brien is scheduled to graduate this May. But that doesn’t mean he’s done with rugby. He plans to play for a high-level men’s club team this summer and hopes to be selected in the Major League Rugby (MLR) draft this August.

“That’s my goal,” he said. “I’m not ready to give (rugby) up yet.”

Saint John’s senior Joey O’Brien.