SLIPPERY ROCK — Aidan O’Shea loved football. But the former Seneca Valley running back-linebacker knew he wouldn’t play the game beyond high school.
So he found a new love.
And he’s pretty good at it.
O’Shea, a sophomore at Slippery Rock University majoring in secondary education, joined the school’s club rugby team as a freshman. It didn’t take him long to elevate himself to becoming one of the team’s best players.
“I knew some buddies from high school who were going to an informational meeting about it, so I went with them,” O’Shea said. “We all joined. It seemed interesting and looked like a lot of fun.
“Now I love playing rugby more than football.”
SRU rugby coach Matt Heasley isn’t surprised.
“We get a lot of guys feeling that way,” Heasley said. “It’s mainly because, in rugby, anyone can carry the ball. Everyone has a chance to be in the spotlight. It’s rough and it’s physical and guys get into it.”
SRU finished 10-2 last season, reaching the Elite 8 nationally. The Rock was knocked out of further postseason play by Wayne State (Neb.), where rugby is a varsity sport and players are recruited internationally.
Before the season ended, however, O’Shea left his mark.
He was named the 2022 SRU Rugby MVP as a sophomore. He made National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) Small College All-American and was named first team all-conference. SRU plays in the 15-team Allegheny Rugby Union. O’Shea was also an all-conference player as a freshman in 2021.
His ultimate honor for the 2022 season was being named Small College Player of the Year among backs across the country.
“We have five backs on our team and Aidan simply stands out,” Heasley said. “He scored a few times against the toughest teams we played, on the big stage, and that gained him a lot of attention.
“He’s very deserving. Aidan is a natural at this sport. He loves the contact and he’s fearless out there.”
O’Shea said he took to the game almost immediately.
“It wasn’t hard to get the rules down, to understand what it took to succeed in the sport,” he said. “You don’t wear the (football) equipment and, sure, you feel the hits, but it’s physically challenging at the same time.
“I mean, you’re out there in a shirt and shorts ... definitely different from football.”
The awards came as a surprise to him.
“I wasn’t expecting any of that stuff,” O’Shea said. “I played with an ankle sprain much of the time, but everybody gets banged up. I hurt my ankle really bad in the first game, but it’s like, suck it up or don’t play. There was no way I was not playing.”
He’s got two years left to play yet.
“Aidan is fit, he’s strong and he’s only going to get better,” Heasley said. “Our goal continues to be to come home with the national championship. If that happens in the next couple of years, he’ll have a lot to do with it.”