Madison Hughes, captain of the U.S. Olympic rugby team, will be Philadelphia this weekend to soak up some nostalgia and peek ahead to the future of his sport. Back in 2012, Hughes was a freshman who helped Dartmouth win the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship.
"It was the first time I was really on the national radar," Hughes says.
Now national exposure means even more for college players because rugby will return to the Olympics this summer for the first time since 1924. Some of the players that Hughes will be watching as a fan could be his teammates in the 2020 Olympics.
"In five years, hopefully more colleges are taking rugby seriously," Hughes says. "With many schools, like Dartmouth, it's a club sport. It means that you aren't getting that university push that the big sports like football and basketball get. If there are schools starting to offer scholarships for rugby, that's a huge development because if you're growing up and thinking, 'Wow, I can get a college scholarship to play rugby,' that would be huge. We need more colleges where rugby is taken more seriously."
Rugby is not recognized by the NCAA, so the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship is a separate entity. Hughes will give the tourney's welcoming speech.
"It’ll be interesting to speak to guys, some of whom I’ve played against and some of whom I was teammates with," he says.
After his first appearance at Collegiate Rugby Championship, Hughes played with the U-20 team in college and joined the national sevens team in 2013-14.
"When I got named captain, it wasn't what I expected at all," the 23-year-old says. "I was still a young guy on the team. I wasn’t thinking it would happen so soon. I dreamed it would happen one day, but to have it happen so soon in my international career was incredible."
The scrum half was born and raised in London, but he decided to play in the United States.
"My mom is from Massachusetts, so I kind of always grew up with American being was part of my identity," says Hughes, who has a British accent. "Dartmouth jumped out at me as a really good option. I talked to the rugby coach, fell in love with the university, and decided that is where I wanted to go."
Dartmouth is among the schools that will be competing this weekend.
"I think we had a few years where we weren't quite at the top like we want to be, but I'm hopeful we have a good team this year and challenge," he says of his alma mater. "Cal is definitely the favorite. [They are] three-time defending champions. That's pretty incredible. Other teams have a good shot like Life, Kutztown and Arizona."
The Collegiate Rugby Championships air live with NBCSN coverage starting at 1 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday, and NBC taking over at 4 p.m. ET both days.
NBC is also televising the the Olympics, which will feature 12 nations in the rugby tournament.
— Penn Mutual CRC (@USASevensCRC) June 3, 2016
The Women's Collegiate Championship began Friday, also in Philadelphia.