Mason Thomas decided to give up wrestling when he was a freshman.
Last fall, the Ankeny High School junior also stopped playing football.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Thomas elected to focus his energy on the sport of rugby, and it turned out to be a good move.
Thomas participated in the USA Rugby High School All-American Camp last week in Casa Grande, Az. He was one of only two Iowans among the 184 players invited to the camp.
“It was super fun, but it was really hard,” Thomas said of the five-day camp. “I learned a lot.”
The camp consisted of two practices every day along with film study in the classroom. Thomas said the U17 players scrimmaged each other on the first three days of the camp, then scrimmaged the U16s on the fourth day.
“We didn’t end until 9:30 at night, but it was fun,” Thomas said. “I had more in me than I thought. It was more of a mental game because your body was so worn out after about two days that it was all in your head after that. It was just who could push themselves the farthest.”
Thomas was invited to the All-American Camp after participating in a regional camp that required four trips to Kansas over an eight-week period. He survived that process, but still had some doubts as he headed to the desert to face some of the nation’s best players.
“I was more nervous than anything,” Thomas said. “I was just lucky enough to be able to go down there. But once I got there, my nerves settled in and everything just went back to playing rugby like it’s always been.”
Thomas was a standout for Ankeny during the high school 7s season last spring. He racked up nine tries (scores), 41 tackles and two assists as the Hawks posted an 11-3-1 record and qualified for the state tournament.
“I’ve coached Mason since he was in eighth grade,” said Ankeny coach Dennis Oliver. “Since then he worked his way into a starting role for us as a freshman, jumping into any position on the field that we needed at the time. His work rate and ethic speak volumes. He is a determined competitor and wants to push himself and his teammates to be better both on and off the field.”
Thomas also played the 15s version of the sport last summer for the Des Moines Rugby Club’s high school team. The squad traveled around to other states playing club teams.
“The difference between the 7s game that we play and the 15s is a bit more than the number of players,” Oliver said. “The 7s, which is often referred to as Olympic rugby, is fast-paced with more wide-open play. The 15s is the traditional version of the game with more structure phase play, much like football. Playing with the Des Moines Rugby Club opened Mason up to that version of the game, which ultimately led to him being invited to the All-American Camp.”
Thomas said he relied on his physicality to compete with some of the nation’s most talented athletes in Arizona.
“I’m not the fastest guy and I’m not the smartest on the field, but I’d say my strength carried me most of the way at the camp,” he said.
According to Oliver, Thomas is also one of the most disciplined athletes he has coached.
“Throughout the season we have team meals the night before matches, where the parents get together and it’s usually a potluck meal for the players,” Oliver said. “Oftentimes its carb-filled with pasta, fruits, cookies, chips, etc. I’ll admit I indulge every so often and get off of the healthy train a few times. But, the ability for Mason to stay focused on his nutrition and not slip up, especially at that age, it just goes to show how dedicated he is to his goals.”
Another goal for Thomas is to play rugby at the next level.
“I definitely want to play in college,” he said. “We’ve been looking at Arkansas State and a couple of other out-of-state schools.”