By Kevin Hatch
Great athletes may have the dream of one day becoming a champion, and BYU men’s rugby head coach Steve St. Pierre was no different.
Years of playing and now coaching rugby have given St. Pierre the opportunity to realize that dream several times over.
St. Pierre grew up in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, and played high school football. He never played rugby growing up, but football gave him the skills needed to venture out to other sports.
After graduating from high school, St. Pierre enrolled at BYU and tried out for the rugby team in 2002, his first year playing the sport. His football experience paid off as he made the rugby team that year.
BYU played a full regular season schedule that year. However, because the college rugby tournament scheduled games only on Saturdays and Sundays, the Cougars did not play in the postseason because of BYU’s no-Sunday-play policy.
“We were great,” St. Pierre said. “But we could never play for a championship because the game was always played on a Sunday.”
After a year of playing rugby for BYU, St. Pierre left for Arcadia, California, to serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While he was on his mission in 2004, college rugby changed its postseason tournament play to a Friday-Saturday format, thus accommodating BYU if it were to qualify for the postseason.
After St. Pierre returned home from his mission in 2005, he would play at BYU for another four years. During his first three seasons, St. Pierre and the Cougars won often and advanced to the championship game each year. However, they never won the final game. While being a national runner-up for so many seasons was a sign of a successful program, St. Pierre and his team wanted to be champions.
Unfortunately St. Pierre injured his shoulder during his junior year and needed surgery. “Injuring my shoulder was a huge challenge, but I played through it,” St. Pierre said.
Setbacks only motivated St. Pierre to aim for better results. The team had to dig deep to find out what they were missing.
As captain of the squad, St. Pierre helped his team members improve and set high goals for the next season. He led them in a more intense weightlifting program to improve the strength of each player. When his senior year arrived, St. Pierre and his teammates were driven by the hope of finally winning a national title.
“We had a really strong brotherhood and connection my senior year,” St. Pierre said.
That season it finally happened. BYU won the national championship in 2009. All of the hard work and determination had paid off. The Cougars found a way to overcome the obstacles that kept them from achieving their dream.
After St. Pierre’s graduation, the team went on to notch second-place finishes in each of the following two years. BYU hired St. Pierre as an assistant coach in 2012, and the Cougars won the national championship in each of the next four seasons. St. Pierre was able to apply the knowledge he gained as a player to his new role to help the team see even more success.
After leaving BYU for a year to be the head backs coach at Herriman High School, St. Pierre was rehired by BYU in 2018 to be the head coach of the rugby program. While St. Pierre has enjoyed his new role at BYU, he said there have been many new challenges to face as a head coach.
“The challenge is helping both experienced and new players keep the tradition and standard of this program,” St. Pierre said.
He leads regular early morning practices every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 6 to 8 a.m. at the Indoor Practice Facility. It is during these early morning hours that players prove to St. Pierre they can meet the challenges that must be overcome to become champions.
“This team’s attitude and work rate have been great,” team captain Tosh Wilcox said. “Huge improvement from past years. Everyone has a lot of stuff going on — work, school, family, rugby, etc. — and yet, the boys still manage to put in the extra work.”
Wilcox also noted the hard work of his coach. “Steve and the other coaches do a great job of bringing a high-focused intensity to practice,” he said. “They are very passionate about the team and about winning.”
Recent COVID-19 concerns prematurely ended the 2019-2020 season for the Cougars.
“It was tough,” Wilcox said. “We had put in so much time and work and then it was just over. Very disappointing but there is no one to blame. It’s a totally unavoidable situation and it’s just unfortunate that it happened.”
Despite the setbacks, skill development on the team will continue with an eye toward the team’s reunion. St. Pierre’s new challenge is to motivate his players through uncertain times, which may be the biggest challenge of his coaching career.
St. Pierre is not one to back down when faced with disappointment. He continues to drive his team to work hard and be ready to play with the same competitive spirit that inspired him and his team in 2009 — the year the Cougars first realized their championship dream.