The New England Free Jacks signed Zack Stryffeler for the 2020 Major League Rugby season.
The 30-year-old back row is 6’2″ and 215 lbs.
Zack played with New Orleans Gold in 2018 and in 2019. He also worked with the team on strength and conditioning and developed youth rugby. During 2019 he played 994 minutes in 16 matches, scoring one try. He made 2 linebreaks, 1 tackle break, 1 offload. and carried 95 times for 504 meters. He also made 232 tackles, which ranked 4th in the league.
Following the 2019 MLR season, Zack returned to Cleveland and the Cleveland Academy Rugby. Congratulations are in order as he and his fiancée, Michaela, were married.
Zack attended Padua Franciscan High School in Parma, Ohio, graduating in 2007. He was a multi-sport athlete earning All-State honors in Ice Hockey, All-Conference in Football, and All-Conference in Baseball. He was also voted Mr. Bruin of his class due to the number of varsity letters and his overall athletic performance.
After graduation, he attended Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, PA. and graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. While at the College he played D3 football for his freshman and sophomore years and then was a student coach for his Junior and Senior years. He also continued with his passion, playing Ice Hockey at W&J for all 4 years. A photo is available from his hockey days at W&J.
College is about exploration and he seized the opportunity to Study Abroad at Southern Cross University in Lismore, New South Wales, Australia for the second semester of junior year. At the time, he was 21 years old. While in Australia, he was exposed to rugby and was hooked. When he came home, he played with Pittsburgh RFC in the fall of 2010, his first rugby season at age 21.
His study abroad experience included surfing, training, and a lot of various extracurriculars, with some university work sprinkled in there.
After graduating from college, he moved back home with his parents and began his graduate degree at Cleveland State, graduating with a Master’s of Education in Exercise Science in 2013.
Zack and Club Rugby 15s and 7s
Zack has also been involved in rugby sevens. According to Nodonia Hills News
, in 2011 he was part of the Atlantis Rugby squad that toured Cuba and in the following year, he traveled with the team to Trinidad and Tobago. Zack has also played rugby sevens with the Tiger Rugby 1823 sevens team (Paul Holmes coach) and played with Tiger Rugby in the Rugbytown 7s
It was mentioned earlier that Zack played with Pittsburgh RFC. He also played with the Cleveland Rovers
from 2011-13. The Nodonia Hills News then indicated that Zack moved to Cashel, Ireland for a year where he played for the Cashel Rugby Club
in the All Ireland League in 2014-15.
Zack also played for PRO Rugby in the first domestic rugby league in the United States in 2016. The Ohio Aviators
went right down to the wire battling the Denver Stampede for the title, although they won the final match of their season, a bonus point decided the title. Zack had the chance to discuss playing professional rugby with one of his team-mates Riekert Hattingh with River City Podcast. Riekert
will also be playing Major League Rugby with the Seattle Seawolves.
There have been many more tournaments, too numerous to mention, but Zack is an accomplished rugby player in both 15s and 7s.
Following the 2018 Major League Rugby season, Zack returned to Cleveland, Ohio and was a coach and Youth development officer for the Cleveland Rugby Academy, which qualifier for the USA Rugby Club 7s Nationals in their first year.
Zack Stryffeler and Youth Rugby
Zack described his work with youth rugby saying that “In Cleveland, I am working with any and all youth players, coaches, and parents that would like to work with me. I have coordinated and ran two autumn clinics running four consecutive weeks. The first camp was run by Rugby Ohio and hosted at St. Ignatius and the second was hosted by the Cleveland Rovers and also ran in conjunction with Rugby Ohio.”
Zack also works as a rugby ‘consultant’ with several high schools in Cleveland, helping the coaches get accustomed to the new style of play, as well as give the players a fresher look at basic concepts.
“Coaching for me provides an opportunity for me to give back to the next generation of athletes. I had many coaches throughout my childhood, but several stand out as being extraordinary. I hope to be one of those extraordinary coaches in the memories of the athletes that I have worked with.”
Zack is professionally represented by Fifty One Sports out of Las Vegas with Simon Mantel as his agent
“With my graduate degree, I have worked as an Athletic Conditioning Specialist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. I have also worked with Abercrombie & Fitch at their home office in New Albany, Ohio as a Corporate Wellness Trainer. Now I work at T3 Performance in Avon, Ohio as a Performance Coach and am working towards developing our own rugby program there.”
New Orleans Youth Rugby Promotion
Not only will Zack be playing with the New Orleans Gold Rugby Club, but he will have responsibilities in promoting youth rugby in New Orleans.
Zack added, that “I am hoping to continue the work that Frank Palumbo has done down there in the youth rugby scene in New Orleans. He has developed incredible energy towards youth rugby and I hope to keep pushing the schools to encourage our game.”
Zack and his Non-Rugby Life
“While I am not playing rugby, I am at spin class, lost in a gym or fitness center somewhere, out bike riding or rollerblading with my girlfriend, Michaela Munday, or out to eat.”
Zack like many professional athletes will be juggling relationships. His girlfriend works as a researcher for Case Western Reserve University and is taking classes for another graduate degree. New Orleans Gold is sensitive to these concerns and opportunities exist in bye weeks and on occasional long weekends to reconnect.
Eammon Hogan, Former Ohio Aviators Assistant Coach: “Zack is a fine young man who was taking his first real steps on the coaching ladder, while I was with the Aviators and he was simply an outstanding role model for the team.”
“Also I would like to say that I am proud of all of the former Ohio Aviators players for retaining such high personal and professional standards to be able to participate in the new MLR.”
“Robert Hattingh, Peter Malcolm, Alan Hanson, Sebastian Kalm, and many others did so much for American rugby’s image both at home and abroad, whilst in Ohio colors, and they will all be a major asset to the new league and to their respective club sides.”
Doug Coil: Much of the information about Zack’s rugby background, youth rugby and his professional involvement have been shared by Zack with some editing changes. Additional information is also reflected in this article.
New England Free Jacks Comments
“The Free Jacks today announced the signing of emerging USA international winger, Deion Mikesell, and back row veteran, Zack Stryfeller, for the team’s inaugural season in Major League Rugby. The pair provide the Free Jacks playing roster with additional Major League Rugby experience. Deion joins from the Houston Sabercats, while Zack travels north from NOLA Gold.”
“We are ecstatic to have Zack and Deion join what is already shaping up to be a well-rounded roster. Both men embody the values of what we believe a Free Jack stands for and we are looking forward to welcoming the pair to the team in the next few days,” commented head coach Josh Smith. “Zack brings a wise head and gold standard work rate to our back row, while Deion adds unrivaled firepower with the ball in hand and a robust defensive game to the back three. Importantly, they are both visually excited to begin making the connections with the team and contribute to the growth of the Free Jacks as we head into the season.”
The pair will join the Free Jacks later this week when the team returns from the first week of pre-season training in the woods of New Hampshire. We are looking forward to welcoming both Deion and Zack to New England.
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