A History 1989-2012
By. Gabe Puello (Coach/co-Founder)
The Florida International University Rugby Football Club was founded in the Fall of 1989 by Gabriel “Gabe” Puello and Rafael “Raf” Gonzalez. Gabe had joined the US Navy in 82, immediately after high school and learned the game while stationed in San Diego playing for Old Mission Beach Athletic Club (OMBAC), and playing in Perth Australia, Hawaii, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, Mombasa, Kenya, and other parts of the globe in the early 80’s. Raf, played rugby since schoolboy age while away at St. David’s College, boarding school in Llandudno, Wales. Both met while playing with the Tridents RFC’s Men’s Club team in the Spring of 1989 and were both finishing their two-year studies at Miami Dade Community College. Both were headed to FIU in the Fall and wanted to play inter-collegiate rugby as well.
Gabe became the first president, coach and captain of the forwards while Raf became treasurer and coached and captained the backs. Together they recruited at the Graham Center and MDCC Campus thru the use of business cards, a large television and VHS Tapes of Rugby World Cup matches as well as posters and handouts plastered throughout the school. The first set of team uniforms were a long sleeved navy blue and gold hoop jersey Matt Godek had on special with white collars and white shorts, blue and gold hoop socks and no patch or FIU logo on the jersey’s. Gabe and Raf both worked part-time at the school’s first and only underground (literally), bar “The Rathskeller”. While there, they recruited players like Frank “Gumbi” Gambin, who just happened to be in student government and soon the school provided the funds to purchase equipment, goal posts, and new uniforms. The blue and gold hoops became practice jerseys and the team adopted a gold to blue fade pattern with the original FIU University crest/logo on the left chest. The shorts changed colors to black and the blue/gold hoop socks remained the same. During Junior Year the team struggled to maintain 15 to 20 players.
1989-1992 President Gabe Puello, Co-Captains/Founders Gabe Puello & Rafael Gonzales
1992-1993 President Raf Gonzales, Captain Rafael Gonzales
1993-1994 President Jeff Parker, Captain Jeff Parker
Despite the challenges, Gabe and Raf were both noticed by ERU territorial selector and coach Martyn Kingston and invited to play with the ERU Collegiate All-Stars versus the Mid-West, West and Pacific Collegiate All-Stars.
Senior Year, a bit more established and better experienced with national territorial play experience under their belts, saw a jump in recruiting and the club grow to 30 to 40 players and social members. During the 1990 season FIU RFC hosted the George Richards 7’s tournament on campus and rock’d the Florida College Rugby scene’s world that year at the Florida Cup Rugby Tournament in Orlando, as well as the Florida Collegiate State Championships in Tallahassee, Fl. At this tourney Gabe was again invited to play with the ERU Collegiate All-Stars and later on to play internationally in ST, Johns and New Foundland, Canada. A young FIU prop, Chris Smith, was also invited to ERU Collegiate All-Star Camp that year.
Raf was not invited to play with the All-Star team this year due to a hilariously famous incident involving the untimely release of certain bodily fluids during a training session on the Harvard University Rugby Pitch (coach Kingston’s pitch), the previous year.
Around this time, after playing at the state and national select-side level, Gabe and Raf along with Oscar Guttierez and a couple of others all left the Tridents RFC men’s club and joined Miami RFC, after becoming disillusioned with the Tridents lack of desire to honor the game (Tridents were a great bunch of guys but they were, and still are, more interested in the party than rugby excellence) and raise their level of play. After that year, the Tridents never beat Miami RFC again. After graduating in 91, Gabe left Miami and played rugby with the Potomac Athletic Club (PAC), in Washington D.C. Raf had still one more year to complete his Engineering degree studies and he took over the club as Coach, Captain and President with the help of fellow Caribbean FIU student Jeff Parker. Upon Raf’s graduation in 92, the FIU RFC remained active under the leadership of Jeff Parker for one more year until it fell into dormancy.
The Resurrection or “The Godfather Era”
The year was 1999 and by this time Gabe had played several years at PAC winning the Men’s National Club Championships and returned to Miami where he was serving on active duty at U.S. Southern Command and playing rugby with his buddy Raf and the Miami RFC, crushing Florida Rugby 15’s and 7’s teams.
One fine day Gabe received a phone call from out of the blue from an FIU student by the name of Carlos Gutierrez “The Godfather”. He had called the Miami RFC hotline and asked if anyone there could help him start a rugby team at FIU. He had no idea a team had existed previously and it just so happened Gabe still had the old constitution lying around somewhere. They dusted it off and soon Carlos got the ball rolling all over again with the same recruiting strategy as in previous years. This time he asked Gabe to help with the coaching while he became the de-facto President and Captain of the team.
The Godfather, from the get-go was well connected with the FIU Student Government and fraternity scene and finding funds for the club was not a problem. A new set of jersey’s Navy Blue with gold piping and new Panther logo replaced the earlier traditional FIU Globe and letters logo. The black shorts and blue & gold hoop socks remained.
During this time club leaders emerged from the unlikeliest of candidates in the form of two best friends and FIU Rugby female social members Dominique Blain and Simone Hillner. Together they kept the boys financed and out of trouble administratively leaving the work on the pitch to Carlos, John, Pat, Nacho and others.
The So-Called UM- FIU Crosstown Rivalry
The first season of the “Godfather Era”consisted of getting their lumps given to them by every college and club team in the state until they played thru their rookie phase. During this season, the hometown rivalry between UM and FIU began to take shape. The rivalry really wasn’t so much between the two teams as it was between the two coaches, Gabe and Franklyn Williams. UM’s Coach and former wanna-be Miami RFC b-side player actually used to get along until the beginning of the 2nd season of the “Godfather era” when an All-Miami College All-Star team was being created to play a visiting Argentinean college team. Gabe was selected and slated to coach this team consisting of FIU, Barry University, FAU and a majority of players from UM (they had the most established program). At the 11th hour, a week prior to the match, Franklyn Williams double-crosses and lies to Gabe, going back on his word on an arrangement they had both agreed upon. Franklyn would not allow his players to play unless he coached the squad, which consequently got crushed by the Argies. Since then, nothing gives Gabe and FIU Rugby a greater chuckle than to defeat UM’s Rugby program which has been continuously running for 20+ yrs, and has never won a championship or advanced out of the state of Florida, and has perennially set the benchmark for mediocrity in South Florida college rugby.
The G Era
The 2001 spring, summer and fall seasons saw FIU Rugby raise their level of play and competition to a 50/50 season in less than a year and the club travelling to the St. Patrick’s Day Tournament in Savannah, Ga . Unfortunately, on Sept. 11, after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Gabe was immediately redeployed out of the country, first to Afghanistan Nov 01-Jan 02, then to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until 03.
During this time, Gerard Ferraris, a fellow Miami RFC player and asst. coach to Gabe took over the coaching duties of the club. Gerard added a contingent of Argentinean non-student players which formed the nexus of the team for the following years to come. One of the long-standing jokes of the club was “How many FIU players actually attended FIU?
During the Spring 2004 season FIU went 4-1 defeating all Florida College Teams with the exception of UCF. Gerard provided a more familial team environment indulging and participating in the teams sexcapades’ and the team saw some success on the pitch while maintaining a party like atmosphere on and off the pitch with their frequent “Parrilladas” and off-pitch parties at G’s home.
The most prominent players and leaders to emerge from this era aside from Simone and Dominique, became Pat “Oldman” Wojcik and John “Big John” Bankston. They would eventually take over the reins from the Godfather as far as on the pitch leadership. Other notable players such as Shaun “Lucia” Allcindor remained part of the club for years and a number of them took over the leadership reins as presidents of the club.
2000-2002 President Carlos Guttierez, Captain Carlos Guttierez
2002-2003 President Simone Hillner, Captain John Bankston
2003-2004 President Patrick Wojcik, Captain John Bankston
2004-2005 President Shaun Alcindor, Captain Leonardo Leon
2005-2006 President Chris Curtiss, Captain Gus Luna
The Panther returned to its hibernation state soon after but it would not be a long sleep for the FIU RFC.
The Third Regime!
Sometime around the Summer of 2009 Gabe returned from his final overseas combat tour with JSOTF-P in Jolo, Southern Mindanao and was now permanently stationed in Miami until his retirement from the Navy in 2013. He searched around campus for any sign of rugby going on because he was too lazy to drive up to North Miami to Miami RFC’s practices. He found to his delight a neophyte player named Hector Gomez, who was trying to start up the team with the coaching of a fellow Caribbean student named Sean Pantin. The two invited Gabe to a practice by the Tamiami stadium one afternoon and Sean had the rookie FIU students playing tackle and everyone was going about smartly getting the crap beat out of them. Gabe left that practice before it ended and vowed never to return unless things changed.
Hector, seeing the writing on the wall asked Gabe to return and help out with the team. This in turn alienated Sean, who quickly faded into obscurity only to be seen now and then when the team was playing home games at the IM pitch.
Hector worked tirelessly to get the team going again and eventually re-registered the club as a trial team in the Florida Rugby Union that year, giving him time to gather funds and support from the school, before entering the union as a full-fledged college team. To Hectors credit, FIU was the only fledgling team in the union’s history to never forfeit a game, home or away during that start up period. This was a testament to his hard work and dedication to the team.
Hectors dream was to play college rugby at FIU and he realized it practically on his own. From this original batch of players, some future leaders were already emerging. Pablo “Pabz” Garcia and Joey Casañas to name a few stepped up and assumed many of the club responsibilities which usually go unnoticed but keep the wheels spinning. On the pitch Chilean #8 Philippe Ryser was making his mark dominating play and leading by example. Other standouts such as Jorge Evora, Mike Hervis, Jesse Taval, Mike Schwabe, Zack Perlmann, Marcus Lee and Alex “Pirahnna” Pinero were learning the game and rapidly improving their skills.
The 2010-2011 squad was the first team in FIU history to defeat its alumni’s during their annual EasterWeekend FIU v FIU Alumni Classic. The Alumni’s are itching to rectify this situation as soon as the funds are available to purchase the right players.
2008-2009 President Hector Gomez, Captain Nick Korenbaum
2009-2010 President Eric Urrutia, Captain Oscar Orozsco
2010-2011 President Pablo Garcia, Captain Joey Casañas
2011-2012 President Pablo Garcia, Captain Philippe Ryser(IR) & Jorge Evora
2012-Present President Pablo Garcia, Captain Jorge Evora, Jose Laphitzondo