Most people only dream of playing sports at a professional level, and most college athletes don’t get to make the jump from collegiate to professional level.
Jordan Gray, a BYU women’s rugby alumna, beat those odds when she became part of the USA National Rugby team in 2016.
Gray has played rugby for 12 years, beginning her career in her freshman year at Centennial High School in Alberta, Canada.
“When I first started playing rugby, my heart was set on the WNBA and rugby was just something I did in the spring,” Gray said. “But after my first game, my heart started to shift.”
After she graduated from high school, Gray found she could continue the sport she loved with BYU’s women’s rugby team.
“I went to BYU and played there, and I fell in love with the sport,” Gray said. “I never dreamed of playing full time, so when it started to happen I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.”
Gray received All-American honors each year from 2011 to 2016 and led the top-ranked BYU team to their highest ranking in the DI Elite Championship in 2016. That same year, she also was recognized as the Rugby Breakdown’s College Player of the Year.
“(Gray) had scholarship offers from other schools, but chose BYU to get the best education,” said BYU rugby head coach Tom Waqa, who coached Gray through her years on the BYU women’s team.
Since graduating from BYU in 2016, Gray has participated in both the 2017 World Cup in Ireland and the 2018 World Cup in San Francisco.
The USA women’s national team reached the semi-finals in the 2017 World Cup, where they fell to New Zealand, receiving fourth place. They also reached the semi-finals in the 2018 World Cup in San Francisco.
“The Sevens World Cup in San Francisco was an amazing experience because we were able to play on home soil,” Gray said. “It was amazing to be able to play in the Giants stadium and be part of something way bigger than myself.”
When asked about his former students’ success, Waqa was quick to praise his former captain.
“Sometimes I hear ‘Jordan Gray, out of BYU’ announced by commentators, and it does bring a sense of joy to what we do as coaches at BYU,” Waqa said. “She was always trying to give her best and used her talent to helps those around her succeed.”
Gray hopes to use this international platform to promote her values and beliefs as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“(Playing on the national team) has definitely shaped me into the person I am today, because I have been able to grow my faith and my testimony of the church,” Gray said. “Rugby at the international level doesn’t have many people of the same faith, and it has given me the opportunity to be an example of the believers and a chance to be a role model to girls with similar standards to myself.”
As her professional career continues, Gray said she hopes to progress further in the world of rugby and help make a name for the sport in the U.S.
“I want to be a part of the growing game in America, and I know by becoming successful as a country people will start to pay attention to how amazing the sport is,” Gray said. “The Olympics are obviously another goal that I have, along with being a positive role model to young girls around the world.”
Gray said she plans to work hard and prepare with the team to best represent the U.S. and their rugby league in the world cup next year. Although she has been on the team for the last two years, Gray said she still can’t believe she gets to make a career out of something she loves so much.
“I wake up every morning, put on cleats, slip in a mouth guard and run around the rugby pitch all day for my job,” Gray said. “It’s amazing to say that your work is something you love doing.”
When asked what advice she has for the current members of BYU’s rugby team, Gray emphasized the need to work hard but have fun.
“My advice to girls on the team now is to enjoy every moment,” Gray said. “Rugby creates a bond unlike any other sport, and it is truly amazing how 40 girls can become sisters after a season of rugby together. You are not just a team, you are a family.”
Jordan Gray and the U.S. team play in the November Test series in Europe with matches against Ireland and New Zealand. For more info on the USA Women’s Eagles, visit usarugby.org.