College in the USA - From Ireland to Dartmouth via Tigers and California - Meet Big Green Head Coach Gavin Hickie

College in the USA - From Ireland to Dartmouth via Tigers and California - Meet Big Green Head Coach Gavin Hickie

Since the turn of the year, UR7s has been meeting the Head Coaches of all the top collegiate programs in North America to get an understanding of University & Rugby in the USA

UR7s: What makes your institution/college different from others?

Coach Hickie: Situated in beautiful Hanover, New Hampshire, Dartmouth College is the smallest of the Ivy League members, with only 4,000 undergraduates. This means class sizes are small, providing students with specific and individual attention from their professors.

Dartmouth is a year-round quarter system school. Students pick twelve terms to graduate, which provides them with great flexibility in customizing their own academic calendar. Students can avail of opportunities such as, internships or studying abroad for their terms off campus. These factors combine to ensure that the students of Dartmouth enjoy an intimate and well-rounded academic experience.

We are also very fortunate that we enjoy the support of our incredible network of loyal and dedicated alums which is one of the most developed in the country.

UR7s: How does the application process work?

Coach Hickie: Admission to Dartmouth is very competitive, with an approx. 11% acceptance rate. We want students who have a burning desire to be here. Dartmouth offers students the chance to apply ED (Early Decision) or RD (Regular Decision). If a prospective student has their heart set on attending Dartmouth, we strongly encourage applying ED, as the competition is slightly less then applying RD.

The Dartmouth Rugby Football Club works very closely each year with prospective students who have identified Dartmouth as their first choice and who have a rugby playing background. We assist and guide students through the process, supporting their application with admissions. While there are never any guarantees, we have been fortunate over the years. Our recent Dartmouth rugby alums include current USA Eagles lock, Nate Brakely and of course, Team USA 7s captain, Madison Hughes.

UR7s: Tell us a little more about yourself, your rugby history and how you ended up leading the program?

Coach Hickie: Originally from Dublin, Ireland I had an amazing career as a professional rugby player with Leinster, London Irish, Worcester and Leicester Tigers. I was fortunate to be part of outstanding squads which, saw us win the inaugural Pro12 league with Leinster and the Premiership with Leicester. Rugby is a unique sport in that it takes you all over the world. This is a major part of the game and I embraced this willingly. I have been fortunate in my rugby travels and this was certainly the case in the US.

I got badly injured for Tigers against Sale’s Jason Robinson, which took me out of the game for almost a year. Upon my return, I was struggling to get back into the Tigers 1st XV squad and I badly needed game time. Exploring every opportunity I could to play some rugby, Belmont Shore in Southern California offered me a chance to play for them. The idea was to go to America for 3 months and go back and get another contract in Europe. 9 years later and on the brink of becoming a US citizen, I look back over that time and can’t help but smile. It’s been an amazing journey!

Having played for Belmont Shore in the Super League in 2008, I ended up coaching them in 2012 to a USA Rugby D1 title. This, along with being assistant coach for the Junior All-Americans kick started my coaching journey. USA won the Junior World Trophy in 2012 and that same year, while living in SoCal, I received a phone call from former USA Eagle and Dartmouth head coach, Alex Magleby to come and take over the reigns at the famous Ivy League school while he coached the USA 7s national team.

The rest as they say is history. Since coming to Dartmouth in 2012 we have won the Ivy XVs and 7s competitions each year and I have gone from assisting the Junior All-Americans to assisting the Collegiate All-Americans to becoming head coach two years ago.

Dartmouth College - Madison Hughes

UR7s: How would you describe rugby at your program?

Coach Hickie: Founded in 1951, the DRFC takes rugby seriously. Our aim is to provide Dartmouth student-athletes with the best possible experience while at Dartmouth. Our stunning Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse, Brophy and Battle pitches and access to our Floren varsity gym, dedicated full time rugby and medical staff, ensure our students experience a fully professional rugby environment.

Our training schedules differ depending on the season/term. However, during our Fall and Spring season, we train on the pitch 4 days a week, after class, and have three weight sessions per week also. Saturday is game day and Sunday is recovery day. It is pretty full on but working closely with the DRFC student leadership, we ensure our schedule is manageable from the students’ perspective.

UR7s: What does the season look like? Do you play 7s & 15s

Coach Hickie: We play a split season, meaning the bulk of our rugby is in the Fall and the Spring. We continue to train during the winter and summer terms for the students that are on campus.

We commence pre-season in late August, which usually consists of a couple of friendlies as we prepare for our Ivy XVs season. Our Ivy Rugby Conference runs from mid September to early November. We play our 7 fellow Ivy League schools and recently won our tenth consecutive Ivy XVs title. Each Spring Break we go on tour as we ramp up our preparation for the Spring season.

We also play XVs in the Varsity Cup each April, against schools such as Cal, UCLA, Navy, Penn St and Army. Following the Varsity Cup, we switch our attention to 7s as we prepare for the annual Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) in June. This tournament is the highlight of our 7s season. It is broadcast on NBC and is a fantastic event. Dartmouth won the CRC in 2011 and 2012.

UR7s: What would the average week look like for your student athletes?

Coach Hickie: Following class, students are out at Corey Ford Rugby Club on Mondays, Tuesday, Wednesdays and Fridays. They are also in the gym at least three nights a week. We have individual film reviews, medical check-ins and mobility sessions throughout the week to boot. Allied to their academics, our students are kept very active!

UR7s: What advice can you give to students thinking about applying?

Coach Hickie: We recommend that prospective students attend our USCD camp, as it provides them with a deep and valuable insight into life at Dartmouth. We have students on campus all year round, so USCD campers get to meet and speak with current students about their own Dartmouth experiences.

We also encourage prospective students to reach out to me and provide details of their rugby playing experience along with their academic scores. This allows the DRFC to build a profile of our prospective students and to assist them in the application process. We always encourage any prospective student who is fully sure they want to attend Dartmouth to apply Early Decision.

UR7s: How do camps like the USCD help students in the Collegiate Application Process?

Coach Hickie: As hosts of the USCD camp, our aim is to ensure students have a fantastic time while on campus. Giving them first hand experience of life at Dartmouth as a rugby-playing student-athlete. If a prospective student knows that Dartmouth is the place for them following camp, we are in a good position, as the DRFC staff has already worked with, and knows the student. This allows us to provide admissions with a strong and personalized show of support, should the student apply to Dartmouth. There are never any guarantees, but we have been fortunate over the last few years, which has seen a number of former USCD campers become Dartmouth students.