Cassandra Orosz coated her son Devin Short’s fingertips with flour and instructed him to perform a standing high jump on her living room wall.
They had to resort to homemade tactics to complete Short’s application for "Next Olympic Hopeful" last summer, because he’d only learned of the program via a Facebook advertisement right before the deadline. The 19-year-old Arbor View High graduate figured his odds were long but worth a shot to advance his rugby career.
“He did the best jump he could, and I crawled up on the ladder and measured with tape where the flour hit the wall,” Orosz recalled. “He called me a little bit later and said, ‘Guess what? I got chosen.’ ”
Short was one of 90 athletes in four sports invited to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, last July—and ultimately he became the lone male rugby player selected to train with the national team.
He spent the next three months at the Olympic Development Academy in Chula Vista, California, alongside the nation’s best rugby players before making the roster for the U.S. Falcons, USA Rugby’s secondary team. Short competed for the Falcons during a January tour of South America that included tournaments in Uruguay and Chile.
Now he has his sights set on making the 13-man roster for America’s top team, the Eagles, who’ll participate March 2-4 in the USA Sevens Rugby Tournament at Sam Boyd Stadium. A camp with approximately 24 players runs through this weekend, with the final roster set to be announced early next week.
“Playing in my hometown with people I’ve played with in the stands, my family in the stands and representing my country would mean everything,” Short says. “It’s my main goal to play for the Eagles; I want to make the Eagles and be one of the main players up there.”
Short has contingency plans. He’ll compete in Las Vegas during the biggest national rugby weekend of the year regardless of whether he makes the Eagles’ roster. Several amateur teams are vying for his services in the Las Vegas Invitational, a larger but less prestigious tournament that runs concurrent to the USA Sevens at fields across the Valley.
If he makes the Eagles, he could spend the next several months traveling the globe. Otherwise, he has a contract lined up with the San Diego Legion of Major League Rugby, whose season starts in April. “It’s pretty crazy how fast everything has progressed,” Short says.
He could hardly tell a rugby scrum from a wrestling match until a classmate convinced him to try the sport after football season ended during his senior year of high school in December 2015. Short immediately took to rugby, liking that it was just as physical as football and gave him more opportunities to touch the ball. He became a standout regionally while traveling to weekend tournaments.
He reluctantly put the sport on hold, however, because he had an offer to play defensive end at Adams State, a Division II school in Alamosa, Colorado. “I was so focused on football and wanted to go to the next level, and it was so competitive to make the cut and get a scholarship that I was like, ‘Yeah, I have to go play college football,’ ” Short says. “But once I got there, I was talking about rugby all the time. I was trying to get involved with a rugby program up there. It kind of ruined football.”
Short’s freshman football season halted when he suffered a shoulder injury, and without an athletic anchor, he stopped attending class and moved back home. He started working and playing with local rugby clubs while trying to figure out his next move—right around the time he stumbled upon "Next Olympic Hopeful." “I was like, ‘I’m just going to fill this out and see how it goes,’ ” Short says.
After winning, he participated in a three-month training camp, and his family accompanied him on the sidelines for an Eagles appearance at the Silicon Valley Sevens tournament last November in San Jose, California.
That’s when it struck Orosz just how far her son had come in his “second” sport.
“We watched the team he had been living with for the past couple of months, and there was just this spark in his eye where I knew it was all connecting at that point,” Orosz says. “Having lived with those men and seeing what they accomplished in representing America, he was blown away and knew that could be him one day.”
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.