Get to Know the Top Three Draft Picks
On Saturday night, the first ever Major League Rugby Draft took place. 24 of the very best collegiate players were selected to play professional rugby as early as the 2021 season. Commissioner George Killebrew announced the first three players to be selected and they spoke to MLR further about what they hope for the future.
Pick #1 by Dallas Jackals: Conner Mooneyham
Life University | Wing/Center
On Saturday night Life University’s Conner Mooneyham became the first ever first pick in the Major League Rugby Draft. Selected by newcomers, Dallas Jackals, Mooneyham also became the first name on the Jackals roster.
On the official Draft broadcast, Dan Power described Mooneyham as a ‘plug and play’ option for Dallas. Ready to play professional rugby in MLR. At the age of 24, Mooneyham already has an impressive list of honors. A collegiate All-American and two-time D1A National Champion, Mooneyham adds to the already long list of former Life students in MLR.
“I feel like Life University definitely molded me as a player,” Mooneyham said. “They are really good at honing in on talent, I think that the core values are so prominent at Life University that it doesn’t really matter who is leading the team because I had four different head coaches while I was there and, even though their styles were different, they all shared the same core values and standards and I think that is something that has resonated with me from Life University.
“Life University was kind of under the radar for a while, but now that they have won a few national championships and established themselves in the rugby atmosphere. I know that now, a lot of people have actually reached out for me, to get to know Life University better and that’s something that is new and really cool.”
One of two Life University players Drafted on Saturday night, Justin Johnson who was Drafted to New England, it now means that there are now 17 Life University alumni turning out for MLR sides. Taking up rugby as a 12-year-old living in California, Mooneyham now calls Texas home, residing outside of Houston.
Originally coached by his father, Doug, the number one Draft pick says that he is extremely proud, not only to be representing the state in which he and his family live, but to have been selected by Phil Camm (Dallas Jackals GM), Elaine Vassie (Dallas Jackals Assistant GM & Assistant Coach) and Allen Clarke (Head Coach).
“It is definitely a blessing,” Mooneyham said. “I wanted to stay near family and to be able to represent Texas is something awesome, I could have never hoped for a better outcome. Honored just summaries how I felt that day. There were a lot of great prospects and to be the number one pick was definitely an honor.”
With four picks on Saturday night, alongside Mooneyham, Dallas selected Americas International College’s Tommy Clark (back row) ninth overall, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Levi van Lanen (center) and the University of Arizona’s Bronson Telles (back row).
Talking to MLR whilst also completing his final college papers, Mooneyham’s attention will switch to rugby once he has graduated. Joining the third MLR team in Texas, next year there will be some exciting derby games between Dallas, Austin and Houston.
“To be able to compete, especially in a new team, a new franchise in a city like Dallas would be unbelievable,” Mooneyham said. “I have been in the weights room since before declaring for the Draft. I am super excited just to get up to Dallas towards the end of this year and to be able to train with the team.”
You can learn more about the Dallas Jackals and their staff by visiting their website and you can follow Conner Mooneyham on Instagram here.
Pick #2 NOLA Gold: Brian Nault
Central Washington University | Loosehead Prop/Tighthead Prop
Picked second overall on Saturday night, Central Washington University’s Brian Nault was selected by NOLA. Having traded up for the prop, Nault will join an extremely competitive front row room in Louisiana. Eagles props Dino Waldren and Ben Tarr both call New Orleans home, with Nault looking forward to joining his new teammates.
“I am pumped,” Nault said. “I can’t wait to get stuck in and get to work with everybody and just learning from their experiences, picking their brains so that I can add those tools to my belt when it comes to season time and get ready to go. My goal for next year is to make it on the roster. I know that it is going to be pretty tough and it is going to be challenging.
“But, that’s what I love, I love a good challenge. I love working hard to achieve a goal and I am going to do that. My goal is to fit in with the team and do my role for the team and help my teammates anyway that I can so we can collectively win games and achieve our goals.”
Only taking up rugby after being told by his sister that the sport was more difficult than football, Nault has been a standout performer for CWU since he became an established member of the team, even representing the USA U20s side in 2015 and 2017. His college teammate Cole Zarcone (Wing) was Drafted by San Diego with the last pick of the inaugural MLR Draft, who like Nault took up rugby thanks to advice from a sibling.
“CWU has been helping me tremendously, on and off the field,” Nault said. “They are always there for support and always there, not just to make me a better rugby player, but also a better person in general off the field. They really strive to make a better character for the players there and helped me, not only with my rugby techniques and whatnot, they also helped me achieving my goals as a student.”
Pick #3 Utah Warriors: Derek Ellingson
Saint Mary’s College | Center/Wing
Selected by the Utah Warriors third overall, Derek Ellingson joins MLR four years into his rugby journey. A California native, Ellingson grew up playing soccer and ice hockey, representing the California Selects on several occasions prior to taking up rugby at Saint Mary’s College.
Providing impressive tape for the Draft process, Ellingson impressed the Warriors backroom staff enough to use their first ever Draft pick on the 23-year-old center, wing and fullback. Heading east to play for Utah, Ellingson will be playing for Rugby World Cup winner and Head Coach of the Warriors, Chris Latham.
“I think it’ll be awesome and one of the things that definitely drove me to Utah was the coaching staff and how personable everyone was,” Ellingson said. “I got calls from Brandon Sparks, I got calls from Chris, I spoke to the strength and conditioning coaches and it was awesome to have them all reach out.
“Being a back three guy and knowing who Chris Latham is before Utah means I definitely know it will be awesome to play for a guy who played 15. I have only ever been to Utah to play BYU and they always fill the stands and things like that, so I am excited to see if that carries over for sure.”
It is clear to see whilst watching Ellingson play rugby that the first sports in his life have had an influence. A competent kicker at goal for penalties and conversions, Ellingson is also a threat in attack and defense. Able to withstand big hits, Ellingson will offer an able replacement for Canada international Robbie Povey who was traded to Houston in order for the Warriors to gain more Draft capital.
Currently in California, gyms and other public areas are widely closed to the public. Working out on his own for now, Ellingson has a keen eye on the time that he will be able to move to Utah and work day to day with Kimball Kjars team in Salt Lake City.
“Just from everything that I have heard and what I think I will be capable to do in that situation, I am definitely looking forward to it,” Ellingson said. “I know they have talked about me playing in the back three next season and being in that player turnover as we go along the preseason and into the regular season.
“Definitely waiting for gyms to open back up because I don’t have access to that right now, but I have been staying as fit as I can for what it is worth. But, yeah, excited to get back into the gym, get the ball rolling and then go put my skills to work out in Utah. I am excited.”
Utah had four picks at the 2020 Major League Rugby Draft and also Drafted John Powers (Wing) from Iona, Danny Giannascoli (flyhalf/fullback) from Loyola Maryland and Elijah Hayes (Prop) ICC.
Written by Joe Harvey | Photo by David Becker When Dylan Audsley
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