Naperville Central Sophomore Receives National Recognition in First Season
Eight months ago, Michael Amberg had never set foot on a rugby pitch. Last month, he was named ‘man of the match’ at the most prestigious high school rugby tournament in the country. And that was only his most recent accomplishment.
Following the tournament, Amberg was named one of the top 50 players in the country at his position by Alex Goff, leading national rugby columnist for FloSports and Goff Rugby Report.
“Michael is a perfect example of the opportunity available in rugby right now for talented high school athletes,” said Chris Dublinski, head coach of the Naperville Warriors high school rugby club. Even though rugby is the fastest growing sport in the United States, football still draws a larger player pool. Dublinski himself earned All-Conference honors at the University of Arizona after only one season with the Warriors to begin his career. “There remains a situation where, under the right guidance, elite athletes with minimal rugby experience can move up quickly.”
Since joining the club in January the 6’2″, 190-pound sophomore from Naperville Central has been raking in accolades. Amberg first heard about the the Warriors from a friend at school. He got up to speed quickly with basic rules and game play during winter training sessions, and in short order cracked the varsity lineup. Amberg eventually helped his team advance to the state quarterfinals this spring, and the seven’s (Olympic style) team to the state semifinals this summer. If that wasn’t enough, he also led both teams in scoring. After an impressive first season, he was selected to represent Illinois as a member of the ‘Tornados’ All-State squad.
“Rugby allows the best of both worlds,” said Amberg, when asked his favorite part of the sport so far, “you can lay a hit on a runner and be able to score right after. The game rarely stops and even when it (does), it’s only for a second.”
Seeing Amberg flash moments of dominance during Illinois competition, Naperville’s coaches introduced him to the staff at the Eagle Impact Rugby Academy (EIRA). The academy runs a development program with close ties to USA Rugby, focused on identification of elite athletes for the national team. Amberg made the EIRA U17 Midwest roster after a week-long tryout earning him the chance to compete at the USA Rugby Regional Cup Tournament (RCT) in Denver, widely regarded as the premier high school rugby tournament in the country.
For many athletes, simply getting chosen for a select-side team is an accomplishment. Amberg however, chose to make the most of his opportunity. He burst into his first national competition scoring four times, earning ‘Man of the Match’ in the tournament semifinal, and was ultimately named to the RCT All-Tournament team.
But he wasn’t done. To round out the year, Amberg received the leadership award while attending Army’s summer camp at West Point, an honor typically given to an upper classman. He hopes to earn appointment to the academy after graduation.
Amberg’s achievements haven’t been isolated to rugby. As a three sport athlete boasting a near flawless academic record, he’s also found time to earn Eagle Scout recognition before his junior year of high school.
“Michael’s success isn’t accidental,” said Dublinski, “He’s physically gifted, for sure, but also an incredibly driven young man. He has big goals for himself which are backed by great family support.” The Warrior’s coach is thrilled that Michael’s father Jack, who played rugby in the military, introduced his son to the sport.
As Dublinski and his staff prepare for the upcoming season, they hope Michael’s success encourages more high school athletes to give the Olympic sport of rugby a try. “We’re happy for Michael, and look forward to helping him progress even further as he gains experience. We know he’s aiming high.”
When asked if he would recommend rugby to someone considering playing, Amberg answered with an emphatic yes. “It’s not only a fun game (which) you can play until you’re 40, it also has a great culture. Rugby is a brotherhood made for the toughest athletes, and rugby players are some of the nicest and most fun people you can be around,” he said, “as long as you don’t meet them on the pitch.”
The Naperville Warriors high school rugby club recruits athletes from Naperville Central, Naperville North, and Benet Academy. Individuals looking for more information should visit napervillewarriorsrugby.com.