Greenwich resident Kelly south of the border with USA rugby

While a number of Greenwich High School students are attempting to enjoy their summer vacation by relaxing or catching up with some friends, Big Red rugby player Joe Kelly is enjoying his vacation by working hard and visiting another country.

Kelly, a rising senior at Greenwich High School, was selected by scouts to be one of 31 high school athletes to represent the United States on its USA High School All-American Team.

“It’s a really big honor and there are scouts everywhere trying to find the next kid and they found me,” Kelly said. “I sent over some tapes and people came down to watch my game. I finally got the email saying that I was on the team and it was really cool.”

On Tuesday, Kelly packed his bags and headed off to join the rest of his teammates for a few days of practice before the team’s tour of South America. The team’s first day will be July 16 against Chile and will finish up July 28 against Argentina.

“It was awesome and it felt like all my hard work paid off,” Kelly said. “I felt awesome. My dad was very proud and my teammates couldn’t be happier.”

Kelly and the rest of the high school All-Americans will be playing two matches against Chile, two more games against Uruguay and another contest against Argentina. In those games, Kelly will most likely be playing the inside center position.

Once Kelly got the word he was traveling to South America, the celebration was short-lived, as the preparation immediately began. In his acceptance email was a workout schedule that was to be followed every day.

“We are in the gym every day doing those workouts,” Kelly said. “My friends are doing the workouts with me, so that helped out a lot. Every day there is lifting and running. It definitely kept me busy.”

In addition to playing rugby in an unfamiliar environment, Kelly will be in situations not really known to him. During his first three years at Greenwich High, the Cardinals haven’t been in a lot of close games. As one of the premier high school teams around, it’s not uncommon for Big Red to beat an opponent by over 50 points. Most likely that won’t be the case for Kelly and the rest of Team USA.

“It’s going to be nothing like I’ve seen before,” Kelly said. “It’s going to be a wake-up call for me, I think. There will be a lot of good competition. A lot of the South American teams live rugby and play the sport their entire lives.”

Kelly believes that one of the team’s biggest disadvantages is the short time frame they are together. Kelly met up with the team Tuesday and only has a few short days to play as a team and get ready for some difficult competition.

“Rugby is all about chemistry,” Kelly said. “We have to play a lot together before our first game. At Greenwich, we’ve been playing together a long time, so we know what each other can do and know each other’s skill. That’s what I’m worried about when we get together for the first time as a team this week. It will be tough, but I think we’ll fine. We’ll get to know each other and will play well.”

While Kelly couldn’t be happier to be representing his country in the upcoming tournament, he also knows that he’s representing Greenwich High School, where he will be a rising senior.

“It’s going to give our program at GHS a lot of popularity and it’s going to give some players that are coming up an opportunity to get looked at because people know that good players come out of Greenwich,” Kelly said. “It looks really good for the Greenwich High program because it gets our name out there.”

During his time with the Cardinals, Kelly believes that his game has improved every year.

“My skills have improved a lot and I’ve been playing close to every day,” Kelly said. “A lot of my high school teammates and I have been going to the high school field and tossing the rugby ball around and playing together. It improves the team chemistry and our skills as well.”

Kelly knows that the competition is going to be fierce, but he also knows how determined the United States rugby team is as well.

“I think we’re going to do really well,” Kelly said. “We have 15 players who played last year and they have a lot of experience. I think USA is going to be a lot better in rugby than people think.”

Either way, Kelly knows the experience of playing for Team USA will be valubale.

“The greatest thing about this will be that it gives me the ability to teach the younger kids on GHS,” Kelly said. “I could teach everybody what I learned on the USA team.”

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