LA Giltinis signed Cristian Rodriguez for the 2021 Major League Rugby season. Rodriguez was a free agent after the Dallas Jackals postponed their Major League Rugby entry until the 2022 season.
The 24-year-old scrum-half/wing/fullback is 5’6” and 170 lbs.
Cristian played for the Ohio Aviators Tens in the World Tens Series in Bermuda this past October/November.
Growing up in Hawaiian Gardens, California, a tough, little city in LA County, Cristian was first introduced to the Alternatives to Gang Membership (ATGM) program in elementary school. ATGM’s main mission is to provide an outlet through rugby for at-risk youth. At a young age, Cristian and his friends would watch the older kids and dream of playing like them.
Cristian began playing rugby through ATGM in middle school and continued into his time at Artesia High School. Over his four years, his high school team was competitive around Southern California and won many tournaments and championships.
During his senior year in 2015, Cristian was asked to play in a tournament in San Diego. Being that it was late in his senior year, Cristian took the Friday off from school to have fun playing rugby for a day. Cristian caught the attention of the head coach from Lindenwood University who ended up offering him a scholarship for just watching him in one game.
A few months later Cristian was attending and playing rugby at Lindenwood University. Being the first in his family to attend college, he says, “I was given the opportunity to learn and get better while gaining friendships that I’ll cherish for life.” While at Lindenwood, Cristian won three 7s National Championships, two Collegiate Rugby Championships, and was a six-time All-American (three-times each for 15s and 7s). On top of these achievements, in 2019 Cristian was the recipient of the Prusmack Award which is awarded to the top male and female 7s players in the US.
During his time in college, Cristian also represented the US in 2017 on the U20 National Team and 2017-2019 on the U23s 15s and 7s side. In 2017, Cristian began playing for the Belmont Shore Rugby Club who he competes with presently.
Although Cristian never considered himself at-risk of getting involved in gangs, he saw the positive impact rugby had on his friends. After graduating from Lindenwood with a degree in Recreation Administration and a Sports Management minor in 2019, Cristian moved back to Hawaiian Gardens to help run and grow ATGM. He looks forward to continuing to mentor youth back home while growing his rugby career in the MLR.
LA Giltinis Comments
The LA Giltinis have signed a livewire utility back and an off-field inspiration for the city’s youth by bringing Cristian Rodriguez back to Los Angeles.
“In all major sports, LA has to have a team so to get this chance to play with the Giltinis, as they start as a new club, is very exciting,” Rodriguez said.
“(Head coach) Darren Coleman has big goals and we do too as players because we want to get after this competition straight away.”
Rodriguez played fullback for the USA Under-20s (2017) while at Lindenwood University which produced three Sevens National Championships, two Collegiate Rugby Championships, and Men’s Collegiate All-American honours in both XVs and Sevens in his final year (2019).
All he has achieved sprang from the direction he found at 13 by joining the Alternatives To Gang Membership program run by mentor Ernie Vargas for at-risk youth.
More than that, the first in his family to go to college is using his degree in recreation, sport, and tourism management to map a rugby life for others with coaching and mentorship.
“One of my main things in life is to take back to kids all I’ve learned and continue the work of the ATGM program to create chances they may not otherwise get,” Rodriguez said.
“If they see what you can do with a chance, like me at university and at the Giltinis, it is something they can believe in. Like in coaching, I don’t tell kids what I can’t back up.
“My friends and I loved rugby at a young age and why not? You could be really aggressive with tackling and there was a lot of contact without padding. The skill came later.”
Rodriguez is excited to work within the Giltinis’ programs to nurture rugby and introduce new players to the game in youth development.
“Cristian is a real pocket rocket with speed, footwork, and power over and above what his size dictates,” Coleman said.
“He’s an LA boy playing at Belmont Shore Rugby Club who has put a lot of time into at-risk youth rugby programs in his home city.”
Added skills coach Orene Ai’i: “He has a good understanding of the game and he’ll provide cover at wing, fullback, and halfback which is great versatility for us.”