PICK #1 BY DALLAS JACKALS
SAM GOLLA, FLANKER UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
Sam Golla is just the latest in a long line of athletes from the University of California, Berkeley, to become a professional rugby player. In years gone by plenty have been coached by Jack Clark at Witter Field, USA Eagles Blaine Scully, Nick Civetta and Danny Barrett among them.
Selected first overall by the Dallas Jackals, the flanker and lock forward comes with an incredible pedigree that has grown and grown with every passing year. Captaining Cal Berkeley in 2021 and 2022, in his senior year the 23-year-old went 27-1 in his senior year.
His efforts earned him a Rudy Sholz nod in 2022, adding to an honors list that includes being a U20 All-American, having won three Pac-12 Sevens Championships and being named as the Pac-12 co-player of the year in 2020.
Having begun playing rugby as a freshman at Denver East High School in Colorado, evening captaining the side to a State Championship in 2017, Golla’s arrival in Dallas is special not just as it is his opportunity to play professional rugby, but to return to his place of birth.
“It was awesome,” Golla, when asked what it was like to be drafted, said. “It is a crazy feeling. Surreal almost. No one goes in expecting it. I didn’t either. I am proud of myself. I don’t want to brag and boast at all, that’s not the type of person I am, but it definitely makes me proud to know I have made my parents proud.
“It definitely reflects on the University of California, Berkeley, especially. You know, what they have been doing over there for the past 150 years, and the players they have let out of that program and the success that they have.
“I am just a small, little blip in all of that. It is great. It feels good. On top of that, I love Texas. I was born in Arlington, so going back to Dallas and being able to play on a home field in Arlington, it is kind of like full circle for me. It is pretty cool.”
One of seven Jackals draft picks on the night, Golla is likely to be an important player at Choctaw Stadium from the off. Without a head coach at present, the Jackals’ selections were presided over by their newly appointed General Manager, Santiago Sodini.
Golla’s Cal teammates Seth Purdey [Rugby ATL, center], Jack Manzo [Old Glory DC, hooker] were also drafted on August 18, the matchups between those three no doubt something that the players are already looking forward to.
Ethan Hager [University of Victoria, wing], Kyle Fulton [University of Arizona, wing], Matias Caramuti [Thomas More University, fly-half], Nolan Buckley [University of Massachusetts Lowell, number eight], Mazvita Nyamarebvu [Arkansas State University, fly-half] and Jason Tidwell [Texas A&M University, fly-half] were the other six players selected by the Jackals on what a busy day for the Jackals.
For all of those players, getting picked in the Draft is recognition of numerous years hard work, hard work that Golla for one is looking forward to continue as he hopes to progress in his rugby career.
“I can’t even put words into the mental sacrifice – physical of course – but the mental pull that I have put on myself by doing this,” Golla said. “I feel like, definitely in the last two years with Cal, I have put my absolute heart and soul into just about everything I possibly could have.
“I did everything I could physically, and to see that pay off – you never know if that hard work and dedication, the mental state you are in is ever going to pay off. Sometimes you feel like it never will and then sometimes you catch a break that you never expected. Right now is one of those occasions.
“I have been through the wringer and it has definitely been almost surreal. There is almost not words to describe it. You talk to a bunch of people about some success stories, and you just work really, really hard and you don’t even look at the goals. They just happen while you do all the hard work.
“They kind of just pop up without you even noticing. This is kind of one of those situations. It was honestly just something that happened to occur in the middle of the journey. It has been quite the ride, and honestly it is now only getting started.”
Dallas had the number one pick for the third year in a row. In 2020 they picked Conner Mooneyham, who later moved to the Austin Gilgronis after the Jackals deferred their inaugural season to 2022.
Selecting Eric Naposki in 2021, Dallas would not win a game in their first season in MLR. Finishing with a 0-16 record and at the foot of the Western Conference and overall league standings, Golla is sure to be a part of the team’s future for years to come.
An abrasive and athletic forward, it is of course going to be a challenge when he arrives in Dallas full-time in the coming months. It is a challenge that Golla is very much prepared and up for, the 23-year-old hoping to establish himself in the squad to begin with before moving forward.
“I’m very excited,” Golla said. “The one thing I am most excited for is to just learn. I know I am going in as number one, but I personally think I am coming in rock bottom.
“I am going into a league with a bunch of older guys, a lot of guys with international experience, caps, have played for pro teams, that are literally making tackles to feed their kids, and I have been in college playing other students.
“I am really excited for the journey, but I am also excited to learn and be around a lot of experience and a lot of talent. There is this saying; if you are the best somewhere, you shouldn’t be there anymore. That’s kind of the mindset I have right now.
“My first year at Cal, when I went in, I got punched in the mouth by reality. I thought ‘I am going to Cal, I am probably so good’. Then I get there, and I was just the worst player on the team. Or at least that’s how I felt after the Fall. I had so much more to learn, and that is what I am expecting.
“I am ready for the challenge. It is definitely not going to be easy. If anything, it is going to be a lot harder than anything I am expecting. I guess that is the joy in all of it, and facing the adversity head on.”
Written by Joe Harvey
The post Meet the First Overall Pick in the 2022 MLR Draft: Sam Golla appeared first on Major League Rugby.