Little Will a big player on the pitch
It would be like playing for the Yankees and the Red Sox, the Browns and the Steelers or New Zealand and Australia, all simultaneously.
That’s right, Vail’s own Little Will, a five-year veteran and front-row standout for the Vail Rugby Football Club, also plays for the team’s sworn archenemy, the Gentlemen of Aspen.
So, the Vail Daily sat down with Mansour to find out, among other things, how he came to play the game of rugby, what he’s learned along the way, and where his loyalties lie when Aspen comes to town.
Mansour (pronounced man-SUHR) was born in 1974 and raised in the West Cleveland suburb of Fairview Park. He went to Cleveland’s St. Ignatius for high school, playing football there, and then graduated to attend Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. It was there that his rugby career would begin.
“Attending Fordham was definitely a learning experience,” says Mansour. “It was a good place to go to school because you had the campus life and then, if you left campus, you had New York City right there.”
His education in the game of rugby first began under the tutelage of Englishman Dave Dilly, whom Mansour credits for being his first influence and mentor as he learned the finer points of the game.
“Coach would drive all the way up from the other side of town for our practices,” says Mansour. “Then he would have to drive back home again to attend his practices with the New York club team, Old Blue. All because he loved rugby and wanted to teach it and share it with us.”
After completing college at Fordham, Mansour headed west, to Vail. Soon after his arrival he, like many players past and present, heard of the Vail RFC by word of mouth and decided to go to a practice. It was here that his approach to rugby would move to the next level both on and off the field. Mansour attributes this to a number of things.
“The international influence with Vail and with Aspen is great,” says Mansour. “Playing with guys from all over the world that play the game with such passion, and are so knowledgeable about the game has been amazing. It makes you better.”
Mansour mentioned people like Greg Tarpy, Vail’s South African scrum-half and Fred Waititi, Vail’s New Zealand-born-player-coach, who also recently began playing for Aspen, as people who helped him raise the level of his game.
“Fred was a great influence on because he played rugby at the international level,” says Mansour. “He came to Vail to coach, and saw that we had something special going here, and decided to play with us. His skills helped us as players and helped us play at a higher level as a team too.”
The friendships along the way are too numerous to mention but are one of the main reasons that Little Will’s own passion for rugby remain strong.
“When you travel, and train and play rugby with a group of people, you develop a camaraderie with them. Friendships develop quickly. It’s the beauty of the game.”
As for the nickname, don’t let his calm demeanor fool you. Little Will is hardly “little,” he is only called that because there is a bigger Will on the team, Will Preston.
And, when it comes time to lace up the boots, Little Will is always ready to play hard and dish out a bit more than he takes. The mere fact that he practices and plays with Aspen, one of the premier teams in the country, should be all you need to know about his on the field talents.
That brings us back to the Aspen situation. There is little doubt that when cut, Mansour still bleeds Vail Blue. But, despite the amount of ribbing he may take on both ends of the rivalry, he defends his experience with the Gentlemen for a couple of reasons.
“When you play with Aspen, you are playing towards a goal. There’s a regular season and a playoff,” says Mansour. “Ultimately, you are playing for the national championship. It helps you focus in on every game because they all mean a lot. Also, I have learned so much playing with them that it will only help me in the end when I play for Vail in the summer.”
Would that constitute a competitive edge of sorts for himself and the home team when Aspen visits this summer?
“Maybe,” says Mansour with a smile. “I’ve definitely picked up some good stuff with them.”
Before Vail Rugby’s 2003 campaign begins, there are more pressing matters for Mansour and his downvalley teammates from Aspen. The Gentlemen managed to take second in their Super League division, which sets them up for a first-round, playoff match up with the San Francisco team, Golden Gate on May 17 in Aspen, and should be the highest level of rugby one could hope to see in the United States.
On a final note, Mansour wanted to mention that the Vail Colts, the town’s under-19 team, has become an invaluable asset for the Vail club.
“The under-19 team has been a pipeline for players the last few years,” says Mansour. “Battle Mountain principal Mark Bullock is the coach, and he has done a great job in getting the younger guys ready to play with us or college, wherever they end up.”
Little Will and his fellow Vail footballers are lacing it up for the 2003 season with practices already under way, and games slated for later on this month. Anyone interested is invited to come out and practice at 5:30 p.m. at Battle Mountain High School until the team’s home pitch, the Vail Athletic Field, thaws out a little.
David L’Heureux is a freelance writer based in Vail.
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